YANKEES 6, BLUE JAYS 3
For the first time in his short career, Michael Pineda is firmly entrenched as the ace of a pitching staff. In Seattle he pitched behind Felix Hernandez and with New York he has played second fiddle to Masahiro Tanaka until Tanaka went on the disabled list last week.
Now Pineda is showing the baseball world why he should be considered an ace.
Pineda (4-0) pitched eight shutout innings, giving up just five hits and one walk while he struck out six, and the Yankees scored him five runs early as New York went on to defeat Toronto on Tuesday at Rogers Centre.
It was Pineda’s fourth consecutive outing in which he allowed three runs or less and it was his sixth straight victory, which dates back to Sept. 22, 2014.
The Yankees immediately jumped on right-hander Marco Estrada (1-1), who was making his first start of the season and his first start for the Blue Jays after being acquired last November in a trade with the Milwaukee Brewers.
Jacoby Ellsbury led off the first inning with a single and advanced to third on a double off the bat of Brett Gardner. Alex Rodriguez then scored both runners with a double to left.
The Yankees added a run in the second inning on an odd play with Gregorio Petit on second and Ellsbury at the plate with a 1-1 count. Estrada was called for a balk by home-plate umpire Ed Hickox in the middle of his delivery to the plate. Ellsbury singled on the pitch to left to score Petit.
Major League Baseball rules give teams the option of accepting the balk or the result of the play. So the Yankees gladly accepted Ellsbury’s RBI single, which gave them a 3-0 lead.
The Yankees chased Estrada in the fifth inning after Ellsbury, who extended his hitting streak to eight games and was 3-for-5 on the night, singled to start the frame. He later stole second and scored two batters later on Mark Teixeira’s 10th home run of the season.
Estrada was charged with five runs (four earned) on eight hits and no walks while he struck out three in 4 2/3 innings.
The Yankees added another run with two out in the eighth against right-hander Chad Jenkins. With Brian McCann on second via a walk and Stephen Drew on first after a single, Didi Gregarious scored McCann on a lined single to center.
The Yankees summoned right-hander David Carpenter to finish the game in the ninth but the Blue Jays jumped on him immediately when Russell Martin hit a leadoff home run. Then with two outs, Kevin Pillar walked, Chris Colabello stroked an RBI double and Ryan Goins followed him with an RBI single.
Left-hander Andrew Miller brought in to close the game and, after he walked pinch-hitter Jose Bautista to bring up the potential tying run, he got Devon Travis to fly out to right to earn his 11th save in 11 chances this season.
With the victory, the Yankees improved their season ledger to 17-10 and they extended their lead in the American League East over the second-place Tampa Bay Rays to three games. The Blue Jays dropped to last in the division at 13-15, 4 1/2 games behind the Yankees.
- One scout who watched Pineda in spring training said he was the best pitcher he saw in Florida. There are a few good reasons why Pineda is so tough on batters. His mid-to-low 90s fastball has a natural cut to it. His curveball is devastating when it is on. In addition, Pineda rarely walks batters. When you add it all up, he is undefeated with a 2.97 ERA and he has 38 strikeouts and only three walks in 39 1/3 innings. Now that is an ace!
- Ellsbury could not be on fire any more if he threw himself in a volcano. He entered the game batting .347 and he went 3-for-5 (all singles) with two stolen bases and two runs scored. Ellsbury, 31, is now batting .358, which is fifth in the American League.
- Teixeira just keeps rolling out the power and the Yankees are reaping the benefits. Teixeira, 34, now has a team-leading 10 homers and 22 RBIs. Of Teixeira’s 18 hits this season, he has five doubles, 10 homers and only three singles. He also is batting only .205 but manager Joe Girardi is not complaining about it.
- The Yankees have to be a bit concerned about Carpenter, 29. He was tagged for three runs on three hits and a walk in two-thirds of an inning. That gives Carpenter an 0-1 record and a 5.23 ERA in 10 1/3 innings over 11 appearances. The fact that he forced Girardi to bring in Miller when the Yankees held a 6-0 lead going into the ninth is not going to endear him to the manager.
- Carlos Beltran was the only Yankee starter to not get a hit on Tuesday. He was 0-for-4 and his season average has now dipped to .193. He also is still looking for his first home run of the season. It is beginning to look like at age 38, Beltran may have hit the end of the line of his excellent career after 15 seasons.
Teixeira returned to the lineup on Tuesday after resting what has been a nagging lat injury. Teixeira said he first noticed pain in his back just before the series at Fenway Park against the Red Sox. “You deal with bumps and bruises all year, and yesterday Joe [Girardi] thought was a good day for me to take off and let it rest,” Teixeira told reporters. “It felt a little better today.” . . . Jose Pirela, 24, has ended his rehab assignment at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and the Yankees plan to activate him from the disabled list on Wednesday. Pirela suffered a concussion running into a wall in a Grapefruit League contest against the New York Mets and he was sent on a rehab assignment on April 30. In four games, Pirela was 11-for-19 (.579) with one homer and four RBIs. The Yankees will likely option out or disable Petit, 29, to make room for Pirela, who can play second, third and the outfield. Petit was struck on the right hand by a pitch he swung at from Jenkins in the eighth inning and he was replaced at third base by Rodriguez.
The Yankees will play the rubber game of their three-game series against the Blue Jays on Wednesday.
Left-hander CC Sabathia (0-4, 5.40 ERA) will pitch for the Yankees. Sabathia, 34, held the Red Sox to two runs on seven hits and two walks with three strikeouts in six innings but he did not get the decision.
He will be opposed by left-hander Mark Buehrle (3-2, 6.75). The Yankees are Buehrle’s kryptonite. In 21 career starts against them, he is 1-14 with a 6.12 ERA. In fact, the Blue Jays altered their rotation in the first series of the season to make sure Buehrle did not face the Yankees. No pressure, Mark!
Game-time will be 7:07 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast by the YES Network.
BLUE JAYS 3, YANKEES 1
Former Yankee Russell Martin hit a two-out infield RBI single in the bottom of the eighth inning off Dellin Betances to break a 1-1 tie as Toronto rallied late to defeat New York on Monday at Rogers Centre in Toronto.
The Yankees entered the inning with a 1-0 lead on the strength of seven shutout innings from right-hander Chase Whitley. But Josh Donaldson and Jose Bautista hit consecutive one-out singles off right-hander Chris Martin.
Betances then replaced Martin and was greeted by a bloop RBI double off the bat of Edwin Encarnacion that tied the game. One out later, Martin hit a ball down the third-base line on which Chase Headley was able to make a diving stop. However, Garrett Jones was unable to dig out Headley’s one-hop throw and both Bautista and Encarnacion scored on the play.
R.A. Dickey (1-3) yielded just one run on three hits and three walks with no strikeouts in eight innings to earn the victory.
Martin (0-1) was charged with the loss in one of the rare occasions this season that the Yankees’ bullpen was unable to protect a lead. They entered play in second place in the American League in bullpen ERA.
Brett Cecil pitched a perfect ninth to earn his second save.
The loss dropped the season record for the Yankees to 16-10 but they remain two games ahead of the second-place Tampa Bay Rays in the American League East. The Blue Jays are 13-14 and 3 1/2 games behind the Yankees.
- Whitley was brilliant and he deserved a much better fate. He shut out the high-powered Blue Jays on six hits, did not walk a batter and fanned six in what was only his second start of the season replacing Masahiro Tanaka in the rotation. Whitley also showed some “Houdini-like” skills by wriggling out of two tough spots. With one out in the third, Ezequiel Carrera laid down a bunt that Whitley fielded and threw wildly down the right-field line for a two-base error that allowed Carrera to advance to third. But Whitley escaped by striking out Devon Travis and retiring Donaldson on a groundout. In the sixth, Travis led off with a single and Donaldson followed with a double. However, Whitley kept the Jays from scoring by getting Bautista on a groundout, striking out Encarnacion and inducing Kevin Pillar to hit a weak infield popup. Whitley’s ERA after two starts is 0.75.
- The Yankees were able to score a run off Dickey in the seventh on a leadoff double by Carlos Beltran. He advanced to third on a groundout by Stephen Drew and he scored on a groundout off the bat of Jones. Beltran was 1-for-3 but he actually hit the ball hard all three times off Dickey’s knuckleball. Beltran entered the game batting .197 and the Yankees need him to get going with the bat.
- Jacoby Ellsbury was 1-for-4 with a single in the sixth, which extended the 31-year-old outfielder’s hitting streak to seven games. Ellsbury is 15-for-30 (.500) in that span.
- I was not happy with manager Joe Girardi’s decision to rest both first baseman Mark Teixeira and catcher Brian McCann in this game. Those two hitters combined the night before against the Boston Red Sox for a double, a home run and four RBIs in an 8-5 victory. I can understand resting McCann because you do need to find a day to rest a catcher. However, Teixeira and McCann are the No. 4 and No. 5 hitters in the lineup so Girardi had a struggling Beltran batting fourth and a struggling Drew hitting fifth in their place. It is lucky the Yankees managed even one run with the lineup they deployed.
- Here is another criticism for Girardi. He thought enough about replacing Beltran in right-field defensively with Chris Young to begin the bottom of the eighth. But he did not think of inserting Teixeira at first in place of Jones. Is it possible that a five-time Gold Glove award winner like Teixeira digs out Headley’s one-hop throw in the eighth? If that had happened the Yankees would have gone into the ninth tied 1-1 instead of losing 3-1.
- One last Girardi criticism. In the ninth, he allowed Alex Rodriguez and Young to hit to start the inning, as he should. However, he opted not to use either McCann or Teixeira to pinch-hit for Drew. Instead he chose to use Gregorio Petit, who was batting .200. It was almost as if Girardi conceded the game after the Blue Jays scored three runs. It was just odd.
The Yankees continue their three-game series with the Blue Jays on Tuesday.
Right-hander Michael Pineda (3-0, 3.73 ERA) will get the start for the Yankees. Pineda held the Rays to two runs on six hits and he fanned five in 5 2/3 innings in a victory on Wednesday.
He will be opposed by right-hander Marco Estrada (1-0, 0.84), who will be making his first start of the season after the Blue Jays optioned rookie left-hander Daniel Norris to Triple-A Buffalo. Estrada will be limited to 75 pitches so watch the Yankees keep attacking the first pitch and make easy outs like fools.
Game-time will be 7:07 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast by the YES Network.
YANKEES 4, BLUE JAYS 3
Some rallies are loud and thunderous. Others are executed with a little pluck and a lot of luck.
On Wednesday night, the Yankees came from behind using the latter method.
Down 3-1 in the bottom of the eighth, the Yankees sent nine men to the plate and scored three runs thanks to a wind-blown double, two hit batters, a wild pitch, an intentional walk and a single that hit off a pitcher’s glove and rolled into left-field.
Chase Headley’s single off left-hander Brett Cecil’s glove scored Brett Gardner with what proved to be the winning run as New York pulled off late-inning comeback to down Toronto in front of a chilly crowd of 31,020 at Yankee Stadium.
Dellin Betances (1-0) got credit for the victory despite struggling mightily with his command in the eighth inning. Andrew Miller pitched a perfect ninth to earn his first save with the Yankees and only the second of his career.
The Yankees opened the eighth against left-hander Aaron Loup (0-1) with a pinch-hit double off the bat of Chris Young that just eluded second baseman Devon Travis 25 feet behind first base. Jacoby Ellsbury followed with a lined single to center that advanced Young to third.
Loup then hit Gardner on the right forearm to load the bases. Manager John Gibbons replaced Loup with Cecil and, with Carlos Beltran batting, the Blue Jays closer uncorked a wild pitch that scored Young.
After Cecil fanned Beltran, Gibbons elected to walk Mark Teixeira to reload the bases but it backfired when Cecil hit Brian McCann with a pitch to bring in the tying run. Headley then followed with his game-winning single.
The Yankees actually squandered what was an excellent outing from right-hander Michael Pineda, who limited the Blue Jays to two runs on six hits and one walk and struck out six in six innings of work.
The Blue Jays used a lot of luck of their own to score their two runs, using an infield roller by Kevin Pillar, a double by Justin Smoak and another infield single off the bat of Travis to score their first run in the third inning.
They added another run on a one-out single by Travis, a infield bouncer by Jose Reyes followed with a throwing error by Stephen Drew that allowed Travis to reach third before Russell Martin hit a sacrifice fly to score Travis.
The Yankees cut the lead in half in the sixth when Ellsbury singled, stole second, advanced to third on a groundout and scored on Beltran’s sacrifice fly.
But Betances struggled with one out in the sixth by walking Jose Bautista, allowing a single by Edwin Encarnacion and a walk to Josh Donaldson.
However, Bautista actually scored to make 3-1 when McCann threw wildly to first base in an attempt to pick off Donaldson.
The implosion of the Blue Jays’ bullpen spoiled a solid effort from knuckeball right-hander R.A. Dickey, who limited the Yankees to one run on four hits and three walks and struck out four in 6 1/3 innings.
- Ellsbury reached base in all four of his plate appearances with two walks and two singles and he scored two runs. In addition, he stole a base. His only negative was he allowed himself to get picked off first base by Dickey in the first inning. But replays showed Dickey actually got away with a balk by moving his left knee.
- Based on what I saw on Wednesday, I am not sure that Betances will be able to wrest the closer’s role away from Miller. The 6-for-7 left-hander overpowered pinch-hitter Danny Valencia, breaking his bat on an infield roller, struck out Travis and retired Reyes on a grounder. As long as Betances struggles, Miller should be the main man.
- The Yankees were 1-for-10 with runners in scoring position until Headley’s game-winning single in the ninth. Give Headley credit because he put the ball in play and Cecil could not field it cleanly. Headley was 2-for-4 in the game after going 0-for-4 in the opener on Monday.
- Granted, it was a cold and windy evening that made both teams have to resort to “small ball.” But the Yankees offense again looked sluggish against Dickey. They managed just four hits off him. Of their three hits in the eighth, only Ellsbury’s single was hit hard. I think Yankee fans are just going to have to resign themselves to the fact this Yankee team is going to have trouble scoring runs.
- Betances not only is dealing with less velocity. He also is dealing with some messed up mechanics. He was missing his spots badly and the Blue Jays were able to make him throw 32 pitches in the inning. Fortunately, Betances got out of the mess by inducing both Dalton Pompey and Kevin Pillar to hit weak comebackers to the mound.
- In a close game, errors can kill you. The errors by Drew and McCann both were costly because the Blue Jays scored a pair of runs off them. Defense was supposed to be a strength of this team. They need to tighten it up.
Catcher Austin Romine cleared waivers and the Yankees outrighted him to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. Romine, 26, lost a spring training battle to unseat John Ryan Murphy, 23, as the backup to McCann. Romine has batted .204 in 76 games with the Yankees. Murphy has a .252 average in 48 games. Romine is the son of former major-league outfielder Kevin Romine and the brother of Andrew Romine, who is an infielder with the Detroit Tigers.
The Yankees will play the rubber game of their three-game home series with the Blue Jays on Thursday.
Left-hander CC Sabathia, 34, will start for the Yankees for the first time since May 10 of last season. Sabathia missed the rest of the season and underwent surgery on his right knee. He was 0-3 with a 8.10 ERA in spring training but showed that his velocity has returned.
The Blue Jays will counter with left-hander Daniel Norris, who will be making only his second major-league start. The rookie was 4-0 with a 2.93 ERA in seven spring starts.
Game-time will be 7:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast by the YES Network.
BLUE JAYS 6, YANKEES 1
Edwin Encarnacion hit a two-run home run and Russell Martin added a two-run single as part of a five-run third inning off right-hander Masahiro Tanaka as Toronto defeated New York on Opening Day on Monday at Yankee Stadium.
Right-hander Drew Hutchison (1-0) held the Yankees to just one run – a solo home run by Brett Gardner – on three hits and two walks while he struck out three batters in six innings.
Tanaka (0-1) sailed through the first two innings, yielding only one hit and striking out three. But he ran into trouble in the third inning when Kevin Pillar opened the inning with a single and rookie Devon Travis drew a walk.
Jose Reyes then laid down a sacrifice bunt between the mound and third base. Tanaka moved into the path of third baseman Chase Headley and Headley ended up throwing wide of first base for an error that allowed Pillar to score, Travis to reach third and Reyes to second.
Martin followed with a single to right that scored Pillar and Reyes, One batter later, Encarnacion blasted a 2-1 fastball into the left-field bleachers to make it a 5-0 margin.
Tanaka was charged with five runs (four earned) on five hits and two walks with six strikeouts in 82 pitches covering for innings.
The Blue Jays added their final tally to begin the seventh inning when Travis belted his first major-league home run to left-field off left-hander Chasen Shreve.
The Yankees were limited to just three hits and three walks in losing their fourth consecutive home opener.
- Gardner has always hit the Blue Jays well and on Monday it was no different. Last season, Gardner hit two of his 17 home runs off Hutchison so it was no surprise when he connected off the 24-year-old right-hander for blast into the right-field seats. Gardner ended up 1-for-4 but he hit the ball well three times.
- Rookie reliever Chris Martin could not have made a better debut with the Yankees than he did in the fifth inning. The 6-foot-8 right-hander faced three hitters who combined last season to hit 98 homers in Jose Bautista, Encarnacion and Josh Donaldson. He fanned all three and looked impressive doing it.
- Alex Rodriguez drew loud cheers from the sellout crowd of 48,469 as he was introduced and he ended getting more cheers as he drew a walk and singled in the game. The 39-year-old designated hitter lined out to right-field in his last at-bat to finish his day 1-for-2.
- Tanaka, 26, revamped his pitching style to put less stress on his elbow but it backfired on him on Monday. Tanaka shelved his 94-mile-per-hour fastball in order to use his lower velocity two-seam fastball. That was the pitch Encarnacion hit out. The Blue Jays basically stopped swinging at pitches diving out the strike zone and Tanaka was forced to serve up batting practice fastballs to them. He is going to have to rethink his strategy next time out.
- I bemoaned the lack of offense all spring and it reared its ugly head again on Monday. The Yankees made Hutchison look much better than he really is. They hammered him pretty good in his six starts last season. But on Monday they allowed him to use stuff that tops out at around 92 mph to make them look bad. Carlos Beltran and Mark Teixeira combined to go 0-for-6 in the heart of the order.
- Headley committed a costly throwing error that began Tanaka’s demise but it really was not all his fault. Tanaka sprinted after the ball and ran right into Headley’s path just as he was fielding the bunt. If Tanaka had let it go I do not think Headley would have made the error.
Manager Joe Girardi did not even try to hide his displeasure with Didi Gregorius’ decision to try to steal third base with two out in the eighth inning. Gregorius reached after being hit in the right elbow by a pitch from reliever Aaron Loup. He moved to second when Beltran drew a two-out walk. Then with Teixeira at the plate and the Yankees trailing 6-1, Gregorius dashed for third with third baseman Donaldson shifted over. But Martin was able to gun down Gregorius easily on the first pitch from reliever Miguel Castro. “You know, I’m just going to chalk it up as someone trying to do too much, and in a game like this you’re looking for a three-run homer there,” Girardi told reporters. “Your run doesn’t mean a whole lot.”
The Yankees will have a day off to wash the bitter taste of defeat out of their mouths before resuming their series with the Blue Jays on Wednesday.
The Yankees will send to the mound right-hander Michael Pineda, who was the team’s most impressive starter this spring. Pineda was 2-0 with a 1.42 ERA with 23 strikeouts and just one walk in 19 innings.
The struggling Yankee offense will face right-handed knuckleball specialist R.A. Dickey. Dickey, 40, was 1-0 with a 1.50 ERA in three spring starts.
Game-time will be 7:05 p.m. and the game will be broadcast by the YES Network.
With spring training in their rear-view mirror and the 2015 season about to start, the question is where will the New York Yankees finish in the American League East. The Yankees have failed to make the playoffs the past two seasons and many experts believe it will be three. But with the additions the Yankees made could they possibly have a surprise in store. Here is how I project it.
NEW YORK YANKEES
First of all, let’s admit that this is not your father’s A.L. East. There is NO dominant team in the division and there is not much separation between any of the five teams in terms of talent.
That said, the Yankees come into 2015 building around the foundation they began with their half-billion dollar investment last winter with the signings of outfielders Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran, catcher Brian McCann and right-handed pitcher Masahiro Tanaka.
Those free agents were added to the holdovers in shortstop Derek Jeter, first baseman Mark Teixeira, outfielder Brett Gardner and left-hander CC Sabathia.
General manager Brian Cashman actually started the rebuilding process for 2015 last summer by retaining a number of players they acquired around the trade deadline or later such as third baseman Chase Headley, second baseman Stephen Drew, outfielder Chris Young and left-hander Chris Capuano.
With the retirement of Jeter, the loss of free-agent closer David Robertson and right-hander’s Hiroki Kuroda’s decision to end his career pitching in his native Japan, Cashman was forced to shuffle the deck by using young pitchers like right-handers David Phelps and Shane Greene and left-hander Manny Banuelos to bring in right-hander Nathan Eovaldi, backup first baseman and outfielder Garrett Jones, starting shortstop Didi Gregorius and relievers David Carpenter and Chasen Shreve.
Cashman also used cash to lure free-agent left-hander Andrew Miller to bolster the bullpen around rookie sensation Dellin Betances.
The result is a team that features a starting lineup of eight players ranging in age from 31 to Alex Rodriguez at 39. The former starting third baseman is returning from a year-long performance-enhancing drug suspension to become the team’s designated hitter.
Only Gregarious at age 25 is considered young.
However, the rotation features a 26-year-old in Tanaka, a 26-year-old in Michael Pineda and a 25-year-old in Eovaldi. A spring injury to 36-year-old Capuano has thrust 27-year-old Adam Warren into the No. 5 slot. So the only pitcher over 27 in the Yankees rotation is Sabathia, who is 34. When is the last time you could say that about the Yankees’ rotation?
The bullpen will center around Betances, 26, and Miller, 28, who are – at least for now – going share the closing duties. If both pitch as they have up to now, it will be a very good shutdown pair because neither have been hit hard by righties or lefties.
The concern will be with the setup spots. Warren is in the rotation so the Yankees will be counting on the right-handed Carpenter, 29, and left-handed Justin Wilson, 27, who was acquired from the Pittsburgh Pirates with Cashman using the team’s catching surplus to deal away Francisco Cervelli.
If Carpenter and Wilson are successful, the bullpen will have a chance to be very good. If they fail, it could be a long season. Warren’s shift back to the bullpen with the return of both Capuano and right-hander Ivan Nova from Tommy John surgery in June can only be a big plus for the group.
Esmil Rogers, 29, will handle long relief. Shreve, 24, gives Girardi a third left-hander and 6-foot-8 right-hander Chris Martin has 95-mile-per-hour stuff that moves on an extreme downward plane. This trio looks solid and give Girardi credit for being a master of managing bullpens.
All spring long the Yankees struggled to score runs. It was not too much different from the way the offense struggled last season.
A pair of speed demons – Ellsbury and Gardner – are stacked on top of the lineup. The idea is to get them on base as much as possible and let them use their speed to get into scoring position for the middle of the lineup.
Both combined to steal 60 bases in what both players admittedly could call an off year. So they hope they can top 80 this season.
The whole strategy rests upon the middle of the order bouncing back from injuries and off years in 2015.
The third batter, Beltran, incurred painful bone chips in his right elbow and ended up posting the worst numbers of his career.
The cleanup hitter, Teixiera, was still limited by a sore right wrist and other injuries and posted only 22 home runs.
Although the fifth hitter, McCann, did crack 23 home runs and drive 78 runs, he only batted .232. So the Yankees would like him to hit closer to his career .272 average this season.
That is plenty of firepower but it seems like a fragile situation counting on Beltran, who will be 38 on April 24 and Teixeira, who will be 35 on April 11.
Behind McCann may be the one diamond-in-the-rough player who is primed for huge season in Headley, 30, who hit 31 homers and drove in 115 runs for the San Diego Padres in 2012. Back issues have hampered him for the past two seasons but he seems healthy now.
He batted .305 with three homers and eight RBIs this spring and the former Gold Glove winner has been flashing some serious leather at third base.
It is unclear how much A-Rod will contribute from the DH spot. Rodriguez has not played more than 138 games since his Most Valuable Player season in 2007. Hip surgeries, nagging other ailments and the drug suspension have teamed with Father Time to make him an unknown quantity.
This spring, Rodriguez batted .267 with three homers and four RBIs and he did not look overmatched at the plate. But it is hard to know what A-Rod will provide until the bells rings on the regular season.
Nowhere did the Yankees look more vulnerable last season than at second base. After Robinson Cano took his power, his .300 average and his Gold Glove defensive skills to Seattle, the Yankees tried veteran Brian Roberts at the position.
But his batting and fielding skills eroded over four seasons of injuries and the Yankees cut him loose in July in favor of Drew, who had never played second base in the pro baseball. Drew also was dealing with a season-long hitting slump that saw him bat only .162 between the Boston Red Sox and the Yankees.
Drew started this spring very slowly but emerged to bat over .470 in the final three weeks with three home runs. Drew has been working with the Yankees’ new hitting coach Jeff Petland and it seems to have been paying some dividends. The Yankees would settle for Drew batting .250 or so with 15 homers and 65 RBIs this season. Those had been norms for Drew in his previous seasons.
Though it was sad to see the 20-year era of Jeter’s career at shortstop come to an end, the Yankees are very hopeful they have an emerging star in the making in Gregorius.
What fans immediately saw this spring is that Gregorius has outstanding range, great hands and an powerful and accurate arm. The Yankees believe his defense will be upgrade since Jeter’s range had been so limited the past several years.
Jeter batted .256 in his final season and the Yankees hope that Gregorius can possibly top that average this season largely batting ninth. When Gregorius was in Arizona, manager Kirk Gibson benched him against left-handers because he has batted only .150 in his career against them.
But the Yankees allowed him to hit against left-handers this spring and Gregorius did not seem to look bad against them. So, for now, Girardi is content with playing his young shortstop every day.
The bench is solid and features power-hitting right-hander Young and power-hitting left-hander Jones. Young, 31, had an exceptional spring and he brings athleticism to all three outfield spots he plays and a potential deadly bat against left-handed pitching.
Jones, 33, hit 15 homers for the Miami Marlins last season and he seems to have the perfect swing for Yankee Stadium. Jones will primarily back up Teixeira at first and he can also play the corner outfield spots, if needed.
Backup infielder Brendan Ryan, 33, had a spring he would rather forget. First, he was delayed at the start with a back injury he sustained lifting weights. After he returned, Ryan ended up pulling a right calf muscle last week and he will start the season on the disabled list.
Ryan brings a slick glove to second, shortstop and third base – although short is where he really shines in the field. But he can’t hit a lick. He has no power and he is a career .234 hitter.
The Yankees obtained infielder Gregorio Petit from the Houston Astros in exchange for cash in the last week of the spring. So Petit, 30, will assume Ryan’s role despite having played on only 62 major-league games with the Oakland Athletics and the Astros. He has batted .278 in just 151 at-bats. He will be a stopgap until Ryan is healthy again.
John Ryan Murphy, 23, managed to hold off a challenge from veteran Austin Romine this spring to remain the backup to McCann. Murphy batted .284 with a homer and nine RBIs in 32 games last season and the Yankees rave about his defense behind the plate.
But the biggest secret the Yankees are carrying with them now lies in the young players they were able to showcase this spring. For the first time in a very long time the Yankees have a number of very good prospects and some positional depth at the minor-league level that could be factors this season.
But the promise is even brighter longer term.
Right-handed starters Luis Severino and Domingo German (obtained in the trade for Phelps and Martin Prado) and left-handed starter Ian Clarkin along with left-handed reliever Jacob Lindgren and right-handed relievers Nick Rumbelow and Jose Ramirez are in the pipeline and moving quickly to the majors.
Second basemen Rob Refsnyder and Jose Pirela tore the cover off the ball this spring and their presence at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre is just a taste of what is the horizon with outfielders Slade Heathcott and Ramon Flores also knocking on the door.
Right-hander Chase Whitley, 25, had a 1.17 ERA this spring and he still not crack the bullpen. You have to figure he is going to get a call-up to the 25-man roster at some point. Keep an eye also on Bryan Mitchell, who will be 24 this month. Mitchell drew rave reviews when he fanned Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez back-to-back in a five-inning effort in a split-squad game in Lakeland, FL, on April 2.
At Double-A Trenton will be prospects such as outfielder Aaron Judge and first baseman Greg Bird, both of whom looked undaunted by major-league pitching this spring.
Catching prospect Gary Sanchez, 23, is also not too far away from contributing in the major leagues.
Though Yankee fans and the Yankee front office never has shown much patience with its young prospects in the past, this group might just force the front office to use them and perhaps the revolving door of signing aging free agents will finally end.
Should the Yankees falter as what so many experts are predicting this season. The young players who are on the way could be a foundation to build around, It is there to see. It is just up to Cashman and the Yankee front office not to screw it up.
Here now is my brief assessment of the other four teams in the division and my prediction for the order of finish in 2015.
This is a team that ran away with this division last season. But it is hard to see them as a “great” team.
Their ace is a very pedestrian Chris Tillman. Their offense lost outfielders Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis. They also are likely to be without Matt Wieters to start the season as he recovers from Tommy John surgery on his right elbow. Ditto for shortstop J.J. Hardy, who has left shoulder injury.
With all that they still have Adam Jones, Manny Machado and they are really hoping that Chris Davis recovers his home-run stroke.
Though Tillman is not a true ace they do have Wei-Yin Chen, Miguel Gonzales and Bud Norris to form a solid foursome. The bullpen with closer Zach Britton and setup guys Darren O’Day and Tommy Hunter is top notch.
They also have one of the best managers in baseball in Buck Showalter. So in Baltimore there is hope the O’s can repeat.
A lot depends on how new outfielders Alejandro De Aza and Travis Snider do to make up for the losses of Cruz and Markakis.
BOSTON RED SOX
This team flopped in 2014 and yet many are picking them to win the title in 2015.
Most of that is based on their offense. To Dustin Pedroia, David Ortiz and Mike Napoli, the Red Sox have added Hanley Ramirez, Mookie Betts and Pablo Sandoval.
They are also hoping for better seasons and health from Xander Bogaerts and Shane Victorino.
However, it is hard to look at the rotation and see anything but potential disaster.
Clay Buchholz was 8-11 with a 6.34 ERA and is considered the ace. Rick Porcello did have a 15-13 record and a 3.43 ERA with the Tigers. But Justin Masterson was 7-9 with a 5.88 with the Cleveland Indians and the St. Louis Cardinals.
Lefty Wade Miley was 8-12 with a 4.34 ERA for the Arizona Diamondbacks. A better offense will help him but he is not anything close to Jon Lester, who the Red Sox traded last season and were unable to re-sign as a free agent.
No. 5 starter Joe Kelly (6-4, 4.20 ERA with the Cardinals) starts the season on the disabled list with right bicep injury. In addition, closer Koji Uehara, who just turned 40, is also on the disabled list with a hamstring injury so Edward Mujica and his 49 career saves are it for now.
There is no doubt that the Red Sox will be capable of scoring runs. The question is will it be enough runs to cover a pitching staff and an underbelly of a bullpen that could really exploited?
Add that up to the fact that catcher Christian Vazquez is out for the season to undergo Tommy John surgery on his right elbow and you have enough doubts about the Red Sox to make it unlikely they are a good choice to win this division.
The Toronto Blue Jays tried this approach last season and it did not work.
TAMPA BAY RAYS
This team seemingly lost everything so quickly that their home radio station, WDAE, is not very enthusiastic about them.
Manager Joe Maddon and his screwy ideas that seem to work on shifting is gone. General manager Andrew Friedman, who introduced sabermetrics and advanced scouting techniques to the organization that built this team, is also gone.
The team’s best pitcher in David Price was traded last season and now is pitching for the Detroit Tigers. Their second-best pitcher, Matt Moore, is not expected back until June because he is recovering from Tommy John surgery.
This spring they incurred injuries to their best remaining pitcher Alex Cobb. Their closer, Jake McGee, will miss the first month.
They also traded away offensive contributors such as Wil Myers, Ben Zobrist, Yunel Escobar and Matt Joyce.
The team’s offense can be wrapped up in third baseman Evan Longoria and a lot of hope and praying.
They are counting on production out of rookie outfielder Steven Souza Jr., who batted .130 this spring and shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera, who the Indians discarded saying he could not play shortstop and he was not the hitter he was in 2011 (25 home runs and 92 RBIs).
They are still hoping that Desmond Jennings just shows one little spark of the long-departed Carl Crawford. But it is not looking like it will happen.
This could amount to one of the weakest hitting teams in baseball in 2015 and it could be worse without Maddon running the show.
Granted, Cobb, Moore, Chris Archer and Jake Odorizzi could form a solid rotation when they are all healthy. The question is can the Rays tread water long enough to see that happen?
Though McGee, Grant Balfour and Brad Boxberger form a solid trio at the back of the bullpen, the Rays are counting on a pair of former failed relievers in Kevin Jepsen and Ernesto Frieri to help out in the middle innings.
They also do not have a decent lefty beyond McGee. Ouch!
After many years of dealing with their obnoxious cowbell-ringing fans – all of about 7,000 of them a game – it appears that the bloom is off the rose and the cowbells will eventually fall silent this season unless there is some sort of miracle new manager Kevin Cash can create.
TORONTO BLUE JAYS
This was the sexy choice to win the division in 2014. Funny thing is, I would have selected them to win this season if young right-hander Marcus Stroman did suffer knee injury that will force him to miss the entire season.
Stroman would have formed a nice 1-2 punch with right-hander Drew Hutchison, who at 24 has progressed so much as a pitcher he is starting on Opening Day ahead of Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey and veteran Mark Buehrle.
To that they have added a pair of young pitchers in left-hander Daniel Norris and right-hander Aaron Sanchez, who looked to be the team’s closer in waiting until the team opted to use him as a starter instead.
The bullpen is untested but it has closer Brett Cecil. There is a lot untested pitchers in the mix behind him but 20-year-old Miguel Castro may end being something special as he gets his feet wet in the majors.
Like the Red Sox, the Blue Jays never have to worry about scoring runs. Add to the thundering power of Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion the bat of third baseman Josh Donaldson, who hit 29 home runs and drove in 98 runs for the Athletics in their cavernous ballpark.
You would think Donaldson will love the Rogers Centre.
Though the Jays will miss line-drive machine Melky Cabrera, they still have Jose Reyes and they have also added catcher Russell Martin, who can hit 20 homers and run a pitching staff like a pitching coach.
So there is a lot to like.
The question is after losing Adam Lind and Colby Rasmus the Blue Jays are trotting a pair of young outfielders in Dalton Pompey (center) and Kevin Pillar (left). Much of what the Blue Jays do will revolve around what they do.
They also have a new second baseman in Devon Travis.
It is hard to pick a team to win with so many new players in the lineup like Pillar, Pompey and Travis. This team is carrying six rookies!
But the real test of how the Blue Jays do in 2015 will hinge on its pitching staff. Stroman was a much bigger loss than I think the Blue Jays can overcome.
PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH
1) BALTIMORE ORIOLES (92-70)
2) TORONTO BLUE JAYS (86-76)
3) NEW YORK YANKEES (84-78)
4) BOSTON RED SOX (80-82)
5) TAMPA BAY RAYS (76-86) Hello Montreal!
The Orioles will fall back to the pack but not enough to make much difference. The Blue Jays actually could have won it with Stroman, but now they will fall short and they will not win the wildcard either. I was tempted to pick the Yankees for second because Tanaka, Pineda and Eovaldi are all primed for excellent seasons. But the offense this spring was woefully lacking and it looks as if they will lose a lot of 4-3 and 3-2 games unless make a deal for a young slugger like Giancarlo Stanton. The Yankees just do not have that stud in the middle of the order and it will hurt. The Red Sox will be the Red Flops mainly because their pitching is not as good as people believe it is. Their bullpen also is much weaker without Miller. About all that the “Kung Fu Panda” Sandoval is good for is twining with Ortiz to advertise for a doughnut shop. Ramirez is talented but he also is moody and can give up when things are not going well. Ask the Marlins and Dodgers. As for the Rays, their collapse could not have come at a worse time for them when attendance and TV viewership is dropping. The owner wants to have a new stadium built despite the fact that they are tied to dumpy and ugly Tropicana Field for many more years. That is why it is inevitable that the team will be sold and shifted to another city like Montreal soon. Tre bien!
BLUE JAYS 1, YANKEES (SS) 0
Steve Tolleson drew a two-out walk, stole second and then scored on a single by Caleb Gindl off left-hander Tyler Webb in the sixth inning as Toronto edged a New York split squad on Saturday at Florida Auto Exchange Stadium in Dunedin, FL.
Left-hander Aaron Loup (1-0) pitched a perfect sixth inning to notch the victory. Chris Jenkins pitched the ninth to earn the save.
Webb (0-1) was tagged with the loss.
The Yankees’ spring record drops to 8-5.
- Right-hander Esmil Rogers started for the Yankees and he pitched three scoreless innings. Though Rogers struck out three, he did give up four hits and Brett Gardner actually saved him a run by throwing out Russell Martin at home plate on a Josh Donaldson lined single to left in the first inning. With left-hander Chris Capuano out for at least a month, Rogers remains a viable candidate to replace him as the team’s No.5 starter.
- Gardner’s defense – particularly his throwing arm – came up big in this game. Martin led off with a double and Donaldson followed two batters later with his hard-hit single. Gardner fielded the ball and then made a perfect throw to catcher Eddy Rodriguez to get Martin by about 10 feet.
- The Yankees managed just five hits but one of them was a hard-hit single off the right-field wall in the fourth by Alex Rodriguez, who played third base and batted fourth in his first road game of the spring. Rodriguez is now 6-for-16 (.375) with a homer and two RBIs this spring.
- Rodriguez’s surgically repaired hips and his rust after more a season of inactivity cost the Yankees dearly in this game. First, Rodriguez was unable to get to second on his hit off the wall in the fourth. Later that inning he failed to score from third on a lined shot to right-field off the bat of Jose Pirela. Rodriguez froze off the base instead of going back to tag up.
- The Yankees had a number of chances to score and blew every one of them. They 0-for-9 with runners in scoring position. They even had the potential tying run thrown out at home plate that ended the contest.
- All six Yankee pitchers either gave up a hit or walk and none of them had a 1-2-3 inning. Webb induced a double play in the sixth but then walked Tolleson. The Blue Jays turned it into a run on steal by Tolleson and two-out single by Gindl.
Manager Joe Girardi told reporters on Saturday that he is no hurry to name a closer. “I won’t make that decision until really late, because to me, that’s not one of my pressing decisions,” Girardi said. Right-hander Dellin Betances and left-hander Andrew Miller each pitched an inning on Saturday. . . . Left-hander CC Sabathia threw a 35-pitch bullpen session and his next assignment will be his first start of the spring on Tuesday against the Blue Jays at George M. Steinbrenner Field. . . . Backup infielder Brendan Ryan, 31, who has been sidelined since sustaining a back injury lifting weights before the exhibition season started, is making progress in getting healthy. The Yankees hope that he is able to play sometime later next week.
The Yankees will play host to a Philadelphia Phillies split squad on Sunday in Tampa, FL.
Newly acquired right-hander Nathan Eovaldi (0-1, 1.80 ERA) will get the nod for the Yankees. The 25-year-old former Marlin will be making his third appearance of the spring.
The Phillies will counter with non-roster right-hander Sean O’Sullivan (0-1, 9.82 ERA) will also be making his third appearance of the spring.
Game-time will be 1:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be available via WFAN in New York through MLB Radio.
With the opening of the New York Yankees spring training camp in Tampa, FL, we will now look at each position on the team to assess their chances in 2015. After a disappointing 2014 season with a roster riddled with significant injuries the Yankees have reshuffled the deck with a lot of fresh faces to join some old ones. Let’s look at them all beginning with the catching position.
Brian McCann, 31 (.232, 23 HRs, 75 RBIs, 140 games)
When the Yankees signed McCann to a five-year, $85 million free-agent contract last winter they were hoping they had solved the team’s problem with offense from the catching position that had festered since Jorge Posada retired in 2011.
McCann, a native of Athens, GA, left the Atlanta Braves hoping to duplicate his eight full seasons of averaging 21 homers and 80 RBIs. He pretty much did that by producing 23 homers and 78 RBIs last season. The issue with McCann was a slow start and the fact he hit 50 points below his career average of .272.
The Yankees have said that they believe McCann’s slow start and his low batting average was a product of his unfamiliarity with pitchers in the American League. That seems like a plausible reason and the Yankees are sure hoping that was the case.
The fact is that McCann’s batting averages for the past three seasons since he hit .270 in 2011 have been .230, .256 and .232. The Yankees do not want to think of those marks as McCann’s new normal because they need his bat in the middle of the order this season.
For a team that is woefully lacking in power and RBI production McCann, when healthy, provides it. His left-hand power translates well to the short dimensions in right-field at Yankee Stadium and McCann seemed able to find the right stroke to get 19 long balls out at home. However, McCann was virtually absent on the road, where he hit just four homers and drove in a paltry 22 runs. The Yankees would like to see him do better away from the friendly confines.
“I think McCann came on strong for us in the second half, and I think next year we’ll have a full season of what we expected from him,” general manager Brian Cashman told reporters. “It’s important. Bottom line, it’s important. We need to be a better offensive club than we were last year.”
McCann drew rave reviews from his pitchers for his game calling, blocking and pitch framing behind the plate. Although McCann has never won a Gold Glove he is considered above average behind the plate. He committed just four errors and last season he managed to throw out 37 percent of potential base-stealers, the highest rate of his career.
With power at a premium and the speed game on the rise throughout Major League Baseball, McCann does provide a pretty good deterrent to the running game.
But perhaps McCann’s largest contribution to the Yankees this season will be his leadership in the clubhouse. With the retirement of team captain and future Hall of Fame shortstop Derek Jeter, McCann is going to be expected to take care of business behind the scenes and be the team’s main face to the media.
One of the more unexpected developments from last season was McCann’s emergence from behind the plate to play first base. That was out of necessity due to the extended periods of time Mark Teixeira was unavailable last season. McCann had never played the position.
Manager Joe Girardi pressed McCann into service and he started 11 games at the position. The surprise was that McCann – though no threat of winning a Gold Glove there either – proved he was more than adequate. He made only one error.
Though he is not going to be expected to play the position much if at all this season, it does provide a potential landing spot for him later in his contract with the Yankees. It would allow the Yankees to keep his bat in the lineup and free the veteran from the wear and tear of catching.
The Yankees entered 2014 with an extremely strong group of catchers at the major and minor-league levels.
They broke spring camp with 28-year-old Francisco Cervelli as McCann’s backup. Throughout Cervelli’s six-year stint with the Yankees he has been prone to injury and 2014 was no different for him.
Cervelli pulled his right hamstring running the bases in Boston on April 14 and he was placed on the 60-day disabled list, short-circuiting yet another season for the Venezuelan native. When Cervelli did return it was in September and he ended up batting .301 with two home runs and 13 RBIs in 49 games.
In the offseason the Yankees elected to trade Cervelli to the team where former Yankee catchers seem to find a home: the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Veteran catcher Russell Martin left the Yankees after two seasons in the winter of 2013 to sign a free-agent contract with the Bucs. He was joined in 2014 by veteran backup catcher Chris Stewart, who the Yankees let go last winter.
But now that Martin has left the Pirates to sign a five-year, $82 million contract with the Toronto Blue Jays, Cervelli figures to start for the Pirates in 2014 with Stewart as his backup.
That leaves the Yankees with a pair of catchers vying to be McCann catching caddy in 2015.
One is 23-year-old John Ryan Murphy, who made his major-league debut when Cervelli landed on the disabled list last April. Murphy quickly drew rave reviews from the Yankees’ coaching staff for his defense.
Murphy also proved that he could be productive as a hitter, which was his history in the minors. Murphy batted .284 with one home run and nine RBIs in 32 games (21 starts) with the big club after hitting .246 with six homers and 28 RBIs in 51 games at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.
It was Murphy’s emergence last season that allowed the Yankees to trade Cervelli to the Pirates on Nov. 13 in exchange for left-handed reliever Justin Wilson.
Last season catching instructor Gary Tuck compared Murphy’s catching style to that of Girardi and told the Wall Street Journal that he “as good as anybody I’ve ever had – and that’s 40 years of some of the greatest catchers who have ever been behind the plate.”
Murphy’s spring competition will be 26-year-old Austin Romine, who batted .242 with six homers and 33 RBIs at Scranton in 2014. He played in only seven games with the Yankees in 2014 and hit .231.
Romine is considered a major-league quality catcher defensively, however, his weak bat has been holding him back. Though he averaged .275 throughout his minor-league career, he has only batted .204 in span of 76 games with the Yankees.
So he enters spring training behind the younger Murphy on the depth chart. However, there is one thing in Romine’s favor for supplanting Murphy as McCann’s backup: He is out of options.
That mens the Yankees would not be able to option Romine back to Scranton at the end of camp. They would be forced to trade or release him. So there is a scenario where the Yankees could elect to install Romine as the backup and allow Murphy to catch on a regular basis at Triple-A to further his development.
The Yankees perhaps further weakened the catching position by electing to trade 24-year-old Pete O’Brien to the Arizona Diamondbacks at the trade deadline on July 31 last season in exchange for infielder Martin Prado.
O’Brien had hit a combined 65 home runs over three minor-league seasons with the Yankees after being selected in the second round of the 2012 First-Year Player Draft. O’Brien had hit a combined .267 with 23 doubles, 33 homers and 70 RBIs with Class A Tampa and Double-A Trenton up to that point.
Though the Yankees were enamored with his prodigious power, O’Brien struggled defensively behind the plate. He ended up being shifted to first base and outfield for long stretches of last season.
The Yankees also ended up dealing Prado to the Miami Marlins on Dec. 19 as part of a five-player deal than allowed the Yankees to obtain right-hander Nathan Eovaldi, who is expected to be a starter with the Yankees this season.
But even though the Yankees dealt O’Brien away, the Yankees still have their second-best prospect in 22-year-old catcher Gary Sanchez, who batted .270 with 13 home runs and 65 RBIs in 110 games at Trenton last season.
The Dominican was signed in 2009 at age 16 and he has been impressive at every stop along the way. He has hit at least 13 home runs in each of his minor-league seasons and the scouts believe his stroke will make him a very good all-around hitter at the major-league level.
His defense is still a work in progress but he does feature a very good arm.
Sanchez has no chance of making the team’s roster but he will be ticketed to Triple-A. He will have a chance to play there regularly. There is a chance that if an injury develops at the position Sanchez could make his major-league debut in 2015.
If Sanchez develops as the Yankees hope he does they might have the flexibility to move McCann to first base eventually when the young catcher is ready. It is rapidly becoming sooner rather than later.
But time is still on the side of Sanchez.
OVERALL POSITION ANALYSIS: EXCELLENT
McCann was a seven-time All-Star selection and he won five Silver Slugger awards with the Braves so there is no reason to believe that he could not regain that status with the Yankees in 2015. He is going to be asked to shoulder a big burden this season.
He is being asked to handle the pitchers, call games, hit for power, drive in runs and be a team leader in the clubhouse. Because McCann is more than capable of doing all those things well there is nothing standing in his way now.
Look for a huge comeback season for the veteran catcher.
It does not really matter who gets the backup job. However, Sanchez will develop much quicker at Triple-A if Murphy is around. Look for the Yankees to keep Murphy and allow Romine to walk as a free agent.
The catching prospects for the Yankees look bright for many years to come if Sanchez delivers as advertised when he is ready to assume the job in a few years. The Yankees, however, would be wise to find another young catcher to groom like Sanchez.
NEXT: FIRST BASE