YANKEES 2, PIRATES 1
Tyler Austin preserved a 1-1 tie with his arm in the sixth inning and then handed New York its first Grapefruit League victory over Pittsburgh on Thursday with a solo home run to lead off the eighth at McKechnie Field in Bradenton, FL.
Austin fielded a single in right-field off the bat of Deibinson Romero in the bottom of the sixth inning and threw out Jeff Decker at home plate right after Decker had tied up the game with an RBI single that scored Willy Garcia from second base.
Two innings later, Austin blasted a tape-measure home run into the left-field stands off right-hander Deolis Guerra (0-1) that broke the 1-1 tie and eventually stood up as the game-winning run.
Left-hander Fred Lewis (1-0) pitched a scoreless inning in the seventh to get credit for the victory. Right-hander Taylor Garrison pitched a perfect ninth to earn a save.
With all the early buzz in camp about 22-year-old right-fielder Aaron Judge’s 6-foot-7 size and his tremendous power potential, you could not blame Austin for feeling like a forgotten man.
Austin, 23, was once among what looked to be a golden group of young outfielders the Yankees had in the minor leagues. They included Slade Heathcott, Ramon Flores, Mason Williams and Austin. In many circles, Austin was considered the cream of the crop.
While myriad injuries, off-field problems and poor performance have plagued Heathcott, Flores and Williams, Austin has had his share of misfortune also.
Austin was not a heralded 13th-round pick in the 2010 First-Year Player Draft, but he had thrust himself into hot prospect status by batting a combined .322 with 17 home runs and 80 RBIs in 110 games in four minor-league stops in 2012. He was named the organization’s best minor league player that season.
In 2013, he sustained both a thumb and a wrist injury that limited the right-handed hitter to a .265 average with six homers and 40 RBIs in 85 games in two minor-league assignments. Though he was injured, he remained the team’s third-rated prospect entering 2014.
Instead of getting untracked at Double-A Trenton, Austin slumped to a .275 average, nine home runs and 47 RBIs in 105 games. The thumb injury he suffered in 2013 was still an issue, robbing him of his ability to hit the ball with authority.
As a result, he entered camp in 2015 as the team’s No. 15 prospect and Judge has shot past him to No. 5. So it has been Judge who has been getting all the attention early while Austin has quietly tried to put the injuries behind him and recover his patented line-drive stroke.
At 6-foor-1, 220 pounds Austin may not have the imposing stature of Judge. But if he can put up some good numbers this spring and have a rebound 2015 season, Austin might just get re-establish himself as a up-and-coming prospect again.
After Thursday’s throw from right-field and his game-winning home run it appears that Austin is well on his way to reopening some eyes in the organization. He obviously is hoping more of those days will come.
- Both right-handed starter Emil Rogers and fellow right-hander Chase Whitley threw two scoreless innings for the Yankees. Rogers, 29, only yielded a two-out double to South Korean shortstop Jung Ho Kang in the second inning. He fanned one and did not issue a walk in a 28-pitch outing. Whitley, 25, surrendered two hits, struck out one and did not walk a batter as he also threw 28 pitches. Both pitchers are eventually slated for the bullpen, but manager Joe Girardi wants Rogers, Whitley, Adam Warren and Bryan Mitchell to be stretched out as starters in case the Yankees opt for a sixth starter early in the season or if they are needed to start in case of an injury.
- Former Pirate Garrett Jones started at first base and was 2-for-2 with a double and he drove in the team’s first run off Pirates closer Mark Melancon in the fifth inning. Jones, 33, followed Chris Young’s two-out double with a hit that was scored as a double. Jones actually hit a routine fly ball that dropped between outfielders Starling Marte and Gregory Polanco and second baseman Sean Rodriguez.
- Second base prospect Rob Refsnyder, 23, has a horrible debut in Tuesday’s opener against the Philadelphia Phillies in Clearwater, FL. But he atoned for that on Thursday by going 2-for-3 against the Pirates. Refsnyder doubled to right in the second off starter Francisco Liriano but was thrown out attempting to stretch it to a triple on a perfect relay from Rodriguez to third baseman Justin Sellers. He then added an infield single in the fourth off right-hander Charlie Morton that loaded the bases with two outs. However, Cito Culver ended the threat with a weak popout.
I am going to give the Yankees a pass in this one because they managed to put together nine hits after collecting just five in their home opener on Wednesday. The pitching, led by Rogers and Whitley, also held the Pirates to just one run. On defense, the Yankees threw out two runners on the basepaths. All things considered it was a good effort.
Yankees general manager Brian Cashman told reporters on Thursday that he has no intention of issuing the title of captain to any Yankee in the near term. In fact, he even added that he thought retired shortstop Derek Jeter, who held the honor for 12 seasons, should be the last Yankee captain. “From my chair, it’s not something I think we have to fill,” Cashman said to reporters. . . . Outfielder Carlos Beltran, 37, is scheduled to play in right-field for the team’s Grapefruit League game against the Pirates on Friday. It will the first game action for Beltran, who played in only 109 games last season due to a bone spur and three bone chips in his right elbow. As a result, Beltran batted a career low .233 with 15 home runs and 49 RBIs. So Beltran underwent surgery to repair the elbow last September. “I feel pretty good, making improvement every day,” Beltran told reporters. “I’m taking a lot of swings like I used to in the past in spring training. The elbow feels good.”
The Yankees will play on Friday in the first of what will be three scheduled split-squad games.
In the afternoon, the Yankees will play the Phillies at Bright House Field in Clearwater. It will be their third meeting with the Phillies in the past four days.
The Yankees will start Mitchell, a 23-year-old right-hander who was 6-7 with a 4.37 ERA in 23 games (21 of them starts) at two minor-league stops before making his major-league debut with the Yankees. He was 0-1 with a 2.45 ERA in three games (one of them as a spot starter).
Mark Teixeira and Chase Headley will be among the group of players who will play in the game.
The Phillies will counter with veteran left-hander Cole Hamels, 31, who was 9-9 with a 2.46 ERA in 30 starts last season. Rumors claim that the Phillies are shopping Hamels for a trade before the end of spring training.
Game-time will be 1:05 p.m. EST and the game will be broadcast on a delayed basis by the MLB Network at 9 p.m.
The Yankees also on Friday will host the Pirates at George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, FL, for what will the team’s first night tilt this spring.
Left-hander Chris Capuano, 36, will get his first start of the spring. Capuano was 2-3 with a 4.35 ERA in 12 starts with the Yankees after he was acquired last July from the Colorado Rockies for cash considerations. He also is the favorite to become the team’s No. 5 starter this spring.
Alex Rodriguez, coming off his excellent debut on Wednesday, will serve as the team’s designated hitter in the game.
The Pirates have scheduled 27-year-old left-hander Jeff Locke to start. Locke is competing to be the team’s No. 5 starter after going 7-6 with a 3.91 ERA in 21 starts with the Pirates last season.
Game-time will be 7:05 p.m. EST and the game will be broadcast live via MLB Radio through station KDKA in Pittsburgh.
YANKEES 9, RAYS 3
Sometimes you can predict the game’s outcome by looking at how pitchers fare through the second and third time in the batting order. Saturday’s pitchers, Masahiro Tanaka of the Yankees and Jake Odorizzi of the Rays came into the game as polar opposites.
The rookie right-hander Odorizzi tends to pitch well early and lose it the second time through the order. Tanaka gets hit early but gets much tougher the second and third times through the order. That is exactly the way Saturday’s game played out.
After the Rays nicked Tanaka for three runs on seven hits,, including two solo home runs, in the first four innings, the 25-year-old Japanese rookie right-hander shut out the Rays on just one hit in his last three innings of work. Meanwhile, after Odorizzi retired the first nine batters he faced, he was hammered for three runs on five hits and two walks by the next 10 batters he faced.
Tanaka (4-0) remained undefeated as a pitcher dating back to Aug. 19, 2012 when he was pitching for the Rakuten Golden Eagles in Japan.
The Yankees got a solo home run from Kelly Johnson off right-hander Josh Lueke (0-2) to lead off the sixth inning that broke a 3-3 tie and the Yankees rallied from an early 3-0 deficit to score nine unanswered runs to defeat Tampa Bay in front of a paid crowd of 43,325 at Yankee Stadium.
Tanaka ended up giving up three runs on eight hits with no walks and five strikeouts in seven innings to earn a victory punctuated by adjustments he made to stop the Rays after their early assault.
“You know what you’re going to get from him,” manager Joe Girardi told reporters. “You’re going to get a guy that’s really going to compete and is going to give you distance and is going to keep you in the game. He’s going to give you every opportunity to win.”
The Rays jumped out early when Desmond Jennings sent Tanaka’s 12th delivery into the bleachers in right-center for a solo home run with one out in the first inning.
They added a run in the second inning on a little bit of luck and some well-placed hits.
James Loney singled to left against the shift to start the inning. One batter later, David DeJesus hit a line drive that deflected off Tanaka and rolled into left to advance Loney to third. After retiring Sean Rodriguez on a popup for the second out, Ryan Hanigan rolled a ball that just squirted through Johnson and Yangervis Solarte.
Wil Myers gave the Rays their 3-0 lead when he slapped Tanaka’s first pitch to the opposite field and in the corner of the right-field porch for home run.
True to form, Odorizzi fell apart in the fourth when Jacoby Ellsbury led off the frame with a lined single to left. After Brett Gardner forced out Ellsbury on a fielder’s choice groundout, Mark Teixeira launched a mammoth blast into the second deck in right field for his fifth home run and his fourth in his past five games.
The Yankees then chased Odorizzi in the fifth when Ichiro Suzki led off with a double to the wall in left-center and Solarte drew a four-pitch walk. After Ellsbury tied the game with a ground-rule double to left-center, Rays manager Joe Maddon pulled Odorizzi in favor of left-hander Cesar Ramos.
Odorizzi left after giving up three runs on five hits and two walks while striking out four in four-plus innings.
But after Johnson deposited his fourth home run of the season into the Yankees’ bullpen in right-center, the floodgates opened as the Yankees blasted Lueke and right-hander Heath Bell for six runs on seven hits and one walk over the final three innings.
Teixeira added an RBI single and Alfonso Soriano scored another run with a sacrifice fly off Lueke in the seventh. That Yankees tagged Bell for three runs in the eighth, keyed by an RBI single by Brian Roberts and two-run single by Gardner.
With the victory, the Yankees broke a three-game skid and they reclaimed the lead in the American League East with a 16-12 record. They lead the second-place Baltimore Orioles by a half game. The Rays fell to 14-17 and they are three games back in fourth place in the tightly bunched division.
- Tananka, by all rights, should have lost. By his own admission, he did not have good stuff. “All my pitches weren’t there today,” he said through his interpreter. “As for the split, it was more like a changeup, I feel. Everything wasn’t crisp today.” Yet he was able to win because he did not panic and he found a way to shut down the Rays to allow the Yankees’ offense to get into the game. It shows that Tanaka, on a day when he was not as his best, can still win a game. That makes him special.
- It is May so that means that it is time for Teixeira to wake up and he has. He was 2-for-4 in the game with a single, a homer, he was intentionally walked and he scored a run while driving in three. In his past five games, Teixeira is 7-for-19 (.368) with four home runs and six RBIs. That has raised Teixeira’s season average from .212 to .269. For those pundits who doubted Teixeira’s recovery from wrist surgery have some Tabasco to put on your steaming plate of crow.
- You think the Boston Red Sox would not want Ellsbury back. Think again! In his two games against the Rays, Ellsbury is 7-for-10 with two walks and he has scored two runs and driven in a pair. That has raised Ellsbury’s season average from .309 to .346, which is second to Matt Wieters (.354) of the Orioles in the American League.
- Despite the victory there were some moments that the Yankees did not deliver with runners in scoring position. Brian McCann was 1-for-5 with a double but Ramos struck him out with the bases loaded and one out in the fifth after the Rays elected to walk Teixeira to load the bases. He then lined out to Rodriguez in shallow right in the seventh with two on and nobody out. He ended his day flying out to end the eighth with one on and two out. So he stranded six runners. McCann is still struggling, hitting just .228 on the season.
- Soriano, despite his sac fly in the seventh, was not much better than McCann. He was 0-for-3 and he followed McCann in the fifth by grounding out to short to leave the bases loaded. Despite going 3-for-7 with a home run and an RBI on Friday, Soriano is 4-for-22 (.182) in his past five games with six strikeouts. He is hitting .252 with five home runs and 12 RBIs on the season.
- Solarte’s magic touch appears to be waning quickly. He was 0-for-3 and he is 7-for-35 (.200) in his past nine games. It appears the league is catching up to him because pitchers are feeding him a steady diet of breaking pitches and Solarte seems to be expanding his strike zone instead of being patient. He has drawn only four walks this season.
The Yankees optioned right-hander Chris Leroux to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre on Saturday and recalled veteran right-hander Alfredo Aceves from the same club. Aceves, 31, had no record with a 1.98 ERA in three games (two of them starts) with the RailRiders. Aceves pitched for the Yankees from 2008 through 2010, compiling a 14-1 record and a 3.21 ERA in 59 games (five of them starts). Aceves has pitched as a starter, long reliever, middle innings pitcher and as a closer in his career and he gives the Yankees some flexibility in how he can be used. Leroux, 30, was hammered for five runs on five hits in the 14th inning of Friday’s game against the Rays and he was charged with the loss. . . . Because of the 14-inning game on Friday, Girardi elected to rest shortstop Derek Jeter and outfielder Carlos Beltran. Solarte started in place of Jeter and Suzuki drew the start in right-field in place of Beltran.
The Yankees can claim the three-game series over the Rays with a victory on Sunday.
Left-hander CC Sabathia (3-3, 5.11 ERA) will start for the Yankees. Sabathia gave up four runs on nine hits in five innings a loss to the Seattle Mariners on Tuesday. Sabathia held the Rays to one earned run on seven hits in seven innings at Tropicana Field on April 17.
Veteran left-hander Erik Bedard (0-1 5.52 ERA) draws the start for the Rays. Bedard gave up one run on seven hits and three walks before having to leave due to a high pitch count after five innings against the Red Sox on Tuesday. He gave up four runs on six hits in just 3 2/3 innings to the Yankees at home on April 18.
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.
YANKEES 10, RAYS 2
David Price and CC Sabathia have squared off against each other nine times previous to Thursday and the Rays were 8-1 in those games. Price was 6-1 and Sabathia was 1-6. With those numbers you would have bet the house on Price and the Rays to win.
Well, if you did, you lost your house.
Sabathia pitched seven strong innings and had a triple play turned behind him while the Yankees hammered Price for six runs, including back-to-back homers by Alfonso Soriano and Brian McCann, as New York pummeled Tampa Bay in front of a paid crowd of 28,085 at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, FL.
Sabathia (2-2) held the Rays to two runs (one earned) on seven hits and two walks while he struck out six in pitching what was his best game of the season.
The Yankees, meanwhile, helped Sabathia in the field by turning their third triple play behind him since 2010 in the second inning with Evan Longoria on second and Will Myers at first. Sean Rodriguez hit a two-hopper to the right of third baseman Yangervis Solarte. Solarte stepped on third to retire Longoria, fired to Brian Roberts at second to get Myers and first baseman Scott Sizemore – playing his first career game at first base – scooped Roberts’ low throw to first to beat Rodriguez.
Price (2-1) got off to bad start and never really recovered, giving up a run in the first when McCann laced an opposite-field, two-out single to score Jacoby Ellsbury.
The Yankees added three more runs in the second when Sizemore led off with a double and Roberts followed with an RBI triple. One out later, Ellsbury scored Roberts with a triple of his own and Ellsbury scored on Derek Jeter’s RBI single.
After the Rays scored an unearned run in the fourth when Logan Forsythe scooted home on a passed ball by McCann, the Yankees began putting the game away in the fifth inning when Soriano blasted his fourth home run of the season and McCann added his third with two out in the inning.
It was the second time this season that Soriano and McCann have hit consecutive homers.
Price was raked for 10 hits and one walk while he fanned six in five innings of work.
The Yankees added single runs in the sixth off Heath Bell and the seventh off Josh Lueke and they capped their 16-hit barrage in the ninth when Solarte blasted his first major-league homer with Soriano aboard off Rays closer Grant Balfour.
The Rays got a second run in the seventh when Rodriguez led off the frame with his third career home run off Sabathia.
With the victory, the Yankees have now won five games in row and they are 10-6 on the season They lead the American League East by two games over the Toronto Blue Jays and Baltimore Orioles. The Rays have now lost four in a row and they are 7-9, tied with Boston Red Sox for fourth place.
- Roberts played in his first game April 12 due to lower-back stiffness and he promptly went 3-for-5 with a double, a triple, two runs scored and two RBIs. Roberts had entered the game hitting only .129. The Yankees are counting on the 36-year-old switch-hitter to stay healthy this season.
- Solarte started the night by striking out twice against Price on change-ups. In his next three at-bats he hit a double off Price, a single off Bell and a homer off Balfour. His 3-for-5 night raised his season average from .348 to .373. He also started that triple play in the second inning. It is beginning to look like he 26-year-old Venezuelan infielder is the real deal and not just lucky.
- Soriano also was 3-for-5 with a pair of singles and a homer. Since starting the season 0-for-17, Soriano is 15-for-41 (.366) with four homers and five RBIs. Opponents may want to hope Soriano does not get REAL hot as he did last season when he was acquired by the Yankees at the trade deadline.
No negatives here. This team is rolling on offense, defense and with its pitching staff. When you club a division rival by eight runs on the road against a tough pitcher like Price you are doing something right.
First baseman Mark Teixeira played three innings in minor-league game at the team’s complex in Tampa, FL, on Thursday and he is expected to be activated from the 15-day disabled list on Sunday. Teixeira, 34, has been out since April 4 with a strained right hamstring. He is expected to play five innings in a minor-league game on Friday to prepare for his start on Sunday against the Rays. . . . Closer David Robertson threw a bullpen session on Thursday at Tropicana Field and he is on track to be activated next Tuesday, the first day he is eligible to come of the disabled list. Robertson, 29, has been recovering from a strained left groin. . . . Utility infielder Brendan Ryan, who has not played in a game since March 4 in spring training, is scheduled to play in minor-league game on Saturday. Ryan, who has been sidelined with a cervical nerve injury and an oblique strain, hopes to be able to be activated form the disabled list sometime in early May.
The Yankees will continue their four-game road series against the Rays on Friday.
Right-hander Hiroki Kuroda (2-1, 3.86 ERA) will get the starting assignment for the Yankees. Kuroda, 39, yielded four runs on six hits and three walks in six innings in a victory over the Red Sox on Saturday.
Left-hander Erik Bedard (0-0, 0.00 ERA), who was released by the Rays at the end of spring training only to be brought back, will be subbing for right-hander Alex Cobb, who is on the 15-day disabled list with a strained left oblique. Bedard, 35, was 2-2 with a 6.88 ERA in five games (three starts) in spring training.
Game-time will be at 7:10 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast nationally by the MLB Network and locally by the YES Network.
The American League East is a division loaded with talent. It consists of a world champion, a playoff team, the winningest franchise in baseball history and two power-laden clubs with some pitching. Of those five teams it is possible that three teams could claim playoff spots. Let’s look into the magic ball and see what we can predict. In no particular order let’s look at the teams:
NEW YORK YANKEES
After an injury-marred 2013 season managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner loosened the pursestrings and allowed general manager Brian Cashman to throw out nearly $500 million to free agents. That brought in the best available pitching free agent in Masahiro Tanaka, the best in catcher available in Brian McCann, two All-Star outfielders in Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran, a left-hander for the bullpen in Matt Thornton and two important infielders in Kelly Johnson and Brian Roberts.
Needless to say the Yankees are not planning on winning 85 games and missing the playoffs as they did in 2013.
Added to what the Yankees already had, this team is loaded for a playoff run. The rotation is five deep with CC Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda, Ivan Nova, Tanaka and the sensational return of Michael Pineda this spring has the other teams in the division worried. Only the Tampa Bay Rays can boast a rotation close to this and they only have four healthy starters at the moment.
The bullpen is missing Mariano Rivera and no one will tell you that David Robertson will make anyone forget the greatest closer in history. But no one can believe he can’t do as well as Rafael Soriano did in 2012. The rest of the bullpen has undergone a makeover because of the loss of Boone Logan and Joba Chamberlain. Shawn Kelley and Thornton will handle the late-inning work. The addition of 6-foot-8 rookie Dellin Betances is going to give the bullpen depth because Betances might have the best stuff of the group.
Add to this corps three starting pitchers shifted to the bullpen, David Phelps, Adam Warren and left-hander Vidal Nuno. Phelps and Warren are holdovers from last season and Nuno, 26, gives the Yankees a second lefty to go with Thornton.
The Yankees only need to hope that Mark Teixeira and Derek Jeter return to form. They both missed virtually all of the 2013 season and both are being counted upon to help the offense. They also are hoping that Johnson can fill in for the suspended Alex Rodriguez and Roberts can fill the huge hole left by the childish and petulant departure of Robinson Cano. The Yankees issued Cano’s No. 24 to spring training invitee Scott Sizemore. That tells you what they think of Cano after he left.
Ellsbury will combine with Brett Gardner to provide speed and daring on the bases. McCann and Beltran will join Teixeira and last season’s acquisition Alfonso Soriano to give the Yankees a lot of power in the middle of the lineup. Johnson and Roberts can provide double-digits power as well at the bottom of the order.
The bench features the catcher many teams wanted this spring in Francisco Cervelli, All-Star outfielder Ichiro Suzuki and a pair of hot-hitting rookie infielders in Dean Anna and Yangervis Solarte. Slick-fielding shortstop Brendan Ryan starts the season on the disabled list with an upper-back injury.
Top to bottom the Yankees are loaded with talent, power, speed, a great rotation, a solid bullpen and a versatile bench. They will go a long way in deciding who wins the division and who ends up in the playoffs.
TAMPA BAY RAYS
The Rays are a product of a similar model that used to keep afloat the small-market Minnesota Twins. You try and keep a small corps of good young players together long enough to win until they start leaving via free agency. Of course, this method requires that you keep all the plates spinning at once for a long, long time.
If you don’t you lose.
The Rays were fortunate to keep left-hander David Price off the open market for a year. He will join left-hander Matt Moore and right-handers Alex Cobb and Chris Archer to provide the only rotation in the division that can rival the Yankees. Jeremy Hellickson begins the season on the disabled list but he has not been real effective when he has been healthy so I am not sure how his season will go.
The Rays dumped Fernando Rodney because he blew too many saves and was shaky in those he did save. Enter former Rays right-hander Grant Balfour, who was not signed by some other teams because of some medical questions. Balfour has only had one season as a closer and there is no guarantee the Rays can get another season out of him.
The rest of the bullpen is good. Balfour’s fellow senior citizen, Joel Peralta, is the setup man. He is joined by lefty Jake McGee and former closer Heath Bell. Right-handers Josh Lueke, Brandon Gomes and lefty long man Cesar Ramos round out a pretty solid corps.
The Rays are really lacking speed this season. Their only real base-stealing threat is Desmond Jennings, who is been doing a very bad imitation of Carl Crawford since he arrived.
Now the Rays are looking to generate lots of power with Evan Longoria and Will Myers in the middle of the lineup. The problem is Matt Joyce is coming off a disappointing season and he has not lived up to expectations at all. They also have to hope an aging Ben Zobrist can bounce back after a down 2013 campaign.
The additions of James Loney at first base and Yunel Escober at shortstop helped the offense and defense last season. They hope Ryan Hanigan can provide defense and leadership behind the plate this season.
As always, manager Joe Maddon will mix in spare parts like Sean Rodriguez, David DeJesus and Jose Molina. In addition, he will shift his defense to drive opponents nuts, But if the Rays should falter, Price will be on the trading block before the league deadline. If that happens, the Rays season is over.
In any event, this will be Price’s last year with the Rays and the Rays have to roll the dice they win the division this year. Otherwise, it’s lights out at Tropicana Field for their fan base of 7,500. If things don’t pick up at the gate the team could be headed elsewhere.
BOSTON RED SOX
Most Yankee fans forgot what happened in 2013 so we will leave it at that.
The Red Sox prospects for 2014 would seem to be bright. After all, they hope to have the same rotation they finished with back this year.
They are counting on Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, John Lackey, Jake Peavy and Felix Doubront to be just as good in 2014. Problem is Lester is notch below what an ace should be. Look at most fantasy drafts this season and you will find Lester going in the middle rounds because of his high ERA and even higher walks-to-innings-pitched (WHIP) ratio.
Clay Buchholz also is going late in drafts because he has had a hard time staying healthy. His recurring back problems are not going away. He can only treat it to stay on track.
Lackey and Peavy are also on the north side of their usefulness. Both are crafty veteran pitchers and they will win their share on guile. But this group pales in comparison to the Rays and Yankees. That does not even take into account Doubront, who if you look as his 2013 numbers you wonder why the Red Sox like him so much.
To be sure, Koji Uehara was a miracle worker for them after the Bosox tried a number of unsuccessful closers since Jonathan Papelbon left years ago. But Uehara turns 39 on Wednesday and there is no net for him if he fails to do what he did late last season.
Boston does have lefty Andrew Miller and Junichi Tazawa back and they added Edward Mujica. But they do not have Craig Breslow at the start of the season and this bullpen is just a lot less deep than it was in 2013.
The same can be said for the starting lineup. Instead of bringing Xander Bogaerts, Jackie Bradley Jr., and Daniel Nava off the bench they will have to play to fill holes when Ellsbury, Stephen Drew and Jarrod Saltalamacchia left the team.
Grady Sizemore actually beat out Bradley in center but the Red Sox know they can’t just run the oft-injured former All-Star out there every day. Bogarerts at short, Will Middlebrooks at third and center are unsettled positions with unknown quantities in them. A.J. Pierzynski takes over behind the plate and should be an offensive upgrade from Salty but teams are going to run wild on him on the bases.
The Red Sox just hope they can get another year out of fading DH David Ortiz, who at age 38 is well beyond borrowed time. He had a horrible spring and players at 38 do not get better. They fade.
The Red Sox will still revolve around Dustin Pedroia at second and they just hope that Shane Victorino (who begins the season injured), Mike Napoli, Jonny Gomes, Mike Carp can still do what they did last season. But as we know it is hard to repeat as champion. The last team to do it was, well, the New York Yankees in 1998, 1999 and 2000. Red Sox Nation remembers that period of time.
So I do not think there is going to much in the way of magic at Fenway this season. It just not in the cards.
TORONTO BLUE JAYS
The Jays are all about redemption.
They gave a fading infielder out of Pittsburgh Pirates and a disappointing third baseman out of the Cincinnati Reds a place on the team and they were rewarded with Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion. Those two players form the most feared middle-of-the-order pair in baseball. Both could easily hit more than 40 homers apiece.
The Blue Jays even rehired manager John Gibbons even after they fired him three years ago.
So the Blue Jays were the cool team to pick in 2013 after they added Melky Cabrera and Jose Reyes to what they already had in Adam Lind, Brett Lawrie and Colby Rasmus. But their recipe for success did not count on a complete meltdown of their starting rotation.
Ace R.A. Dickey pitched with a bad back, Brandon Morrow was also hurt and former ace Ricky Romero forgot completely how to pitch successfully. Last season was just not pretty for the Jays.
But they have renewed hope in 2014. Dickey is healthy again and Mark Buehrle can still eat up innings with his soft-tossing junk. Add to that a healthy Morrow and you have the makings of a staff, But the other two spots will go to Drew Hutchison, who at 23 hopes he can establish himself as a starter this year, and an old friend Dustin McGowan, who last pitched as a regular in the Jays rotation in 2008. he is now 32 and he is an expert in rehabs.
Now that is some reclamation project.
Casey Janssen fell into the closer role when Sergio Santos was injured and now both form a nice tandem at the end of the game. Lefty Brett Cecil and hard-throwing righty Steve Delabar make the Jays bullpen one of the best in the division this season.
But bullpens have a way of wearing down when the starters do not succeed and have to be taken out early. In the rough and tumble American League East, the Blue Jays rotation just lacks the ability to hang with the big boys.
There is no doubt their offense is impressive. They will hit their share of home runs. But they also will lose a lot of games by scores of 9-7 and 8-5 because of this shaky rotation.
Cashman pointed out this spring what was painfully obvious. The luck the Orioles used to make the playoffs in 2012 was bound to be paid for in 2013. Orioles manager Buck Showalter took offense. But the truth always hurts, Buck.
The Orioles did not win those one-run and extra-inning games they won in 2012 and they finished with the Yankees in a tie for third place in 2014.
It is hard to see how the Orioles make it much better in 2014 even with the addition of right-handers Ubaldo Jimenez and Bud Norris and outfielder Nelson Cruz.
The issue with the Orioles is the same as last season. The starters Jimenez, Chris Tillman, Miguel Gonzalez, Wei-Yin Chen and Norris are all fine pitchers in their own right but who, for Pete’s sake, is the ace? And is that ace better than the pitchers they face routinely like David Price, Masahiro Tanaka, Clay Buchholz, R.A. Dickey or Matt Moore?
The answer is no and Showalter will learn that quickly.
Jimenez is just a middling starter and Norris just looked good compared to all the awful pitchers the Astros kept running out there. Neither make the Orioles much better.
The addition of Cruz is curious because the Orioles are loaded with offense in mega-power threat Chris Davis added to Adam Jones, Matt Wieters, and J.J. Hardy. Cruz adds to that power but it is hard to see how that helps keep runs of the board.
The Orioles bullpen also took a major hit when Jim Johnson left for Oakland and took the 101 saves he recorded for the O’s the past two seasons with him. The Orioles are asking journeyman right-hander Tommy Hunter to do a job he has never done before and close games.
They did not add much around him either. They still rely on right-hander Darren O’Day and left-hander Brian Matusz to set up. Getting to them may be an issue because none of the rest of Orioles bullpen is really proven.
So Showalter just has to hope that his team can score runs in droves night after night to cover for a weak pitching staff. The mix of this starting staff and bullpen may be the worst in the division because the Blue Jays actually boast a much stronger bullpen.
Showalter may be an excellent manager but he can’t turn cubic zirconium into diamonds. There just no magic left for the Orioles.
PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH
1) NEW YORK YANKEES
2) TAMPA BAY RAYS
3) BOSTON RED SOX
4) TORONTO BLUE JAYS
5) BALTIMORE ORIOLES
I see a close race between the Rays and Yankees and both will easily make the playoffs. The Red Sox will not collapse but I do see them fading as the season progresses when their rotation routinely starts breaking down. The Blue Jays will win their share of games with their offense and bullpen. But there will be days when good pitching will beat good hitting. On those days the Blue Jays will lose. The same for the Orioles. If they do not average seven runs a game they are in a heap of trouble. No team can do that consistently enough and no one can in this tough division. They will fall to the basement with a loud thud. Sorry, Buck. The truth hurts, huh!
YANKEES 3, RAYS 3 (10 INNINGS)
TAMPA – When two American League East rivals meet, even if it is spring training, they battle for bragging rights and set the tone for the season. That was the case on Sunday and it was fitting that it would end up in a tie.
Tampa Bay built themselves a 3-1 lead after 7 1/2 innings but New York rallied for a run in the eighth on a throwing error and scored with two out in the ninth on a wild pitch as both teams ended up in a 3-3 tie after 10 innings at George M. Steinbrenner Field.
Jose Pirela opened the eighth with a single off right-hander Adam Liberatore. He advanced to second on a groundout and reached third on an Adonis Garcia single. With Dean Anna batting, Garcia stole second and catcher Eddy Rodriguez threw the ball away to allow Pirela to score.
The Yankees’ rally to tie in the ninth came with two when pinch-hitter Jose Gil singled off reliever Braulio Lara. Pirela followed with a looping single to right to allow Antoan Richardson, who was pinch-running for Gil, to reach third.
With pinch-hitter Scott Sizemore at the plate, Lara uncorked a wild pitch that allowed Richardson to score the tying run.
The tone for the game was set early by the starting pitchers, right-hander Chris Archer of the Rays and David Phelps of the Yankees.
Archer gave up no runs on two hits and no walks and struck two in 3 1/3 innings. Phelps, not to be outdone, yielded three hits, walked none and fanned one batter in five innings of work.
The Yankees’ spring record is now 7-4-1. The Rays are 5-2-1.
- Phelps, 26, rebounded from a lackluster performance on March 4 to pitch his sharpest game of the spring. He threw 38 of his 59 pitches for strikes and recorded nine of his 15 outs on ground balls. Even if Phelps does not earn the No. 5 spot in the rotation, he will have a prominent place in the Yankees’ bullpen.
- Speaking of the bullpen, Dellin Betances is looking better with each outing. He threw a scoreless inning in relief of Phelps, giving up one hit, no walks and striking out one. In 6 1/3 innings covering four appearances, Betances has a 0.00 ERA on two hits and two walks with five strikeouts. The 25-year-old right-hander has the makings of back-end reliever with his mid-90s stuff, improving command and burgeoning confidence.
- With all the attention being heaped upon Brian Roberts, Brendan Ryan, Eduardo Nunez, Anna and Yangervis Solarte, Pirela is very quietly having a very good spring in his own right. Pirela, 24, was 2-for-2 on Sunday and had a part in both late runs that allowed the Yankees to tie the Rays. Pirela is 7-for-16 (.438) with a homer and three RBIs in 10 games. His chances of making the team are nonexistent but he is making a great impression.
- Bruce Billings, 28, struggled in his fourth outing of the spring. He entered a scoreless game in the seventh by promptly giving up a ground-rule double to James Loney. Billings then misplayed Sean Rodriguez’s sacrifice bunt, throwing the ball away to allow Loney to score. One out later, Billings uncorked a wild pitch and then Ryan Hanigan scored Rodriguez with a single. Billings has an ERA of 4.76, a Walks To Innings Pitched (WHIP) ratio of 1.59 and batters are hitting .318 off him. It may be time for Billings to seek another line of work.
- Anna has been everything the Yankees could have hoped for this spring. He is hitting .357 and has been very good in the field at second, short and third. However, he allowed a pop fly off the bat of Jeremy Moore to drop for a two-base error, which allowed an unearned run to score later on an RBI single by Mikie Mahtook off right-hander Danny Burawa in the eighth.
- Projected starters Carlos Beltran, Roberts and Jacoby Ellsbury are all off to slow starts in the first 12 games. Beltran is hitting .125 and Ellsbury and Roberts are both hitting .143. Ellsbury did have a double in his three at-bats on Sunday and Roberts drove in the Yankees first run on an sacrifice fly in the seventh inning.
Ryan, 31, has been shelved until the middle of next week due to recurring soreness in his lower back. Ryan does not believe it is serious and he is scheduled to be re-evaluated on Tuesday. Ryan is hitting .250 in four games this spring. He is virtual lock to be on the Opening Day roster as a backup infielder unless the back issue lingers. . . . Actor Richard Gere of “An Officer and a Gentleman” and “American Gigolo” fame threw out the first pitch at Sunday’s game. Gere is an avid Yankee fan.
The Yankees will not play an exhibition on Monday. They will resume their spring schedule on Tuesday with a game in Viera, FL, against the Washington Nationals.
CC Sabathia is scheduled to make his second start of the spring for the Yankees. Brian McCann, Ellsbury, Brett Gardner and Mark Teixeira plan to make to make the trip.
The Nationals will counter with right-hander Jordan Zimmermann, 27, making his third start of the spring.
Game-time will be 1:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast on tape delay by the MLB Network at 9 p.m.
YANKEES 3, RAYS 1
Ivan Nova and Alex Cobb set the tone for the afternoon by matching zeros early and the Bobby Wilson’s two-run single in the top of the eighth inning helped allow the Yankees break through in this pitchers’ duel as New York downed Tampa Bay on Tuesday at Charlotte Sports Complex In Port Charlotte, FL.
Nova, who is vying along with David Phelps for the No. 5 starting spot for the Yankees, tossed four shutout innings and gave up four hits while striking out two batters. His mound opponent, Cobb, pitched five shutout innings and gave up two hits and struck out six.
The game remained scoreless until the eighth when the Yankees got a leadoff single from Francisco Cervelli and a one-out single from Thomas Neal off Dane De La Rosa (0-1). Slade Heathcott followed with a potential double-play ball that Rays shortstop Hak-Ju Lee botched for an error that allowed Walter Ibarra – pinch-running for Cervelli – to score the game’s first run.
Wilson then followed with a sharp single to left to score Neal and Heathcott.
The Rays scored an unearned run in the bottom of the inning off right-hander Brett Marshall (1-0), which broke the Yankees’ 25-inning scoreless streak. However, the Yankees still have not given up an earned run in 27 innings and they have allowed only two earned runs over their last 41 innings.
Matt Tracy pitched a scoreless ninth to earn a save.
With the victory, their third in a row, the Yankees improved their spring ledger to 6-11. The Rays fell to 11-7.
- Though Nova held the Rays scoreless he needed a lot of help from his defense to do it. Melky Mesa made a outstanding back-handed grab at the wall in center off Rays leadoff hitter Desmond Jennings in the first inning. In addition, Nova had to wriggle out of a major jam in the fourth. Kelly Johnson laced a single to right that Zoilo Almonte bobbled to allow Johnson to reach second. Johnson then advanced to third on a Leslie Anderson single. But Ryan Roberts lined out to third baseman Jayson Nix, Cervelli threw out Anderson as he attempted to take second and Nova struck out Sean Rodriguez swinging to end the threat.
- In addition to throwing out Anderson in the fourth, Cervelli also threw out Mike Fontenot attempting to take second in the first. In both cases, Cervelli partially blocked pitches in the dirt and threw out both runners because they thought the ball had rolled to the backstop. Cervelli is solidifying his candidacy for the starting catching spot with his defense and throwing.
- Neal, 25, was 2-for-3 in the game and has quietly raised his spring average to .333 with a homer and three RBIs. Neal was signed as a free agent out the Cleveland Indians organization and he is a non-roster invitee to camp. He has virtually no chance of making the 25-man roster but he could be valuable as a future call-up from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.
- The Yankees continue to commit errors in bunches. They were charged with three but only Ronnier Mustelier’s error in the eighth hurt. The other errors were charged to shortstop Eduardo Nunez and Almonte. For Nunez it is only his second error of the spring and both have been on throws.
- Travis Hafner continues to struggle mightily at the plate this spring. Hafner was 0-for-4 with three strikeouts and all came looking. Hafner is hitting .167 with no homers, one RBI and seven strikeouts thus far in spring. It is true that Raul Ibanez struggled through spring training in 2012 and ended up having a great season for the Yankees. But Hafner is either be pressing or may be taking things for granted since he has a major-league contract.
- Though Mesa is playing excellent defense and he has been hitting for power this spring, he is in a bit of a hitting funk. He was 0-for-4 in the game is his spring average has dipped to .194. Even with all that, Mesa has a great chance to make the team as a spare outfielder because he is such a great defensive outfielder.
The Yankees’ decision to sign veteran outfielder Ben Francisco does not bode well for the hopes of non-roster invitee Matt Diaz. Francisco, 31, will make his first start in left-field with the Yankees on Wednesday. Diaz, 35, is hitting only .190 with no homers and two RBIs Francisco, meanwhile, was hitting .400 with six doubles for the Indians when he requested his release so he could sign with the Yankees.
The Yankees will play host host to the Philadelphia Phillies on Wednesday at George M. Steinbrenner Field.
Fans who plan to attend the game will see two important debuts. Left-hander Andy Pettitte will make his first start of the spring and Derek Jeter is expected to shortstop for the first time.
The Phillies will start left-hander Cliff Lee.
Game-time will be 7:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast live by the YES Network and on tape delay by the MLB Network.
YANKEES 4, RAYS 3
The Yankees had lost their last nine games at Tropicana Field. Rays starter David Price was throwing near no-hit stuff. The Yankees had to dip into their bullpen early and they were losing 3-1 heading into the eighth inning.
The Yankees were, indeed, facing long odds.
But former Bronx fans punching bag Kyle Farnsworth and hotter than a Fourth of July firecracker Robinson Cano provided the Yankees just what they needed to put the frustration of the last two days behind them and win a game late.
Farnsworth (0-1) walked four of the five batters he faced and Cano delivered a game-winning two-run single with the bases loaded off reliever Jake McGee in the eighth as New York rallied for three runs to down Tampa Bay in front of a holiday crowd of 28,033 on Wednesday.
Boone Logan (3-0), who gave up a two-run home run from Carlos Pena in the seventh inning, was credited with the victory.
Rafael Soriano pitched a perfect ninth to record his 19th save in 20 opportunities.
Rays fans seemed to ready to set off firecrackers and bottle rockets to celebrate their 10th straight home victory over the Yankees after Logan gave up a leadoff single to Elliot Johnson and Pena followed one out later by launching Logan’s first offering into the right-field bleachers for his 13th home run of the season.
But the Yankees opened the eighth inning with a very patient approach and Farnsworth, as he did so often when he was wearing pinstripes, obliged by handing the game over to the opponents.
Pinch-hitter Eric Chavez drew a leadoff walk. Derek Jeter then struck out. But Farnsworth dug his own grave deeper by walking, in succession, Curtis Granderson, Mark Teixeira (on four pitches) and Alex Rodriguez. The walk to Rodriguez scored Chavez and brought the Yankees to within a run at 3-2.
Rays manager Joe Maddon then summoned the lefty McGee to face the lefty-swinging Cano. But Cano can hit a pitcher throwing with his left foot as hot as he has been the past month. He proved it to Maddon and McGee.
He laced a 2-2 fastball on a line into center-field to score Granderson and Teixeira and the Yankees took a 4-3 lead they would not relinquish.
Price, an All-Star selection who entered the game 11-4 with a 2.92 ERA, did not allow a baserunner until there was one out in the fourth inning when Granderson drew a walk in a contentious 10-pitch at-bat. The Yankees did not get their first hit off Price until the next inning when Cano led off with an opposite-field single to left.
The Yankees finally broke through in the top of the seventh against Price when led off Teixeira by slapping a 2-1 fastball into the bleachers in left-center to tie the game at 1-1.
The Yankees faced even longer odds against Price by having to start rookie right-hander David Phelps in place of the injured Andy Pettitte. However, Phelps pitched exceptional baseball until conditioning and a high pitch count forced him out of the game in the fifth inning.
But Price no-hit the Rays over the first 3 2/3 innings and struck out eight batters over that span.
Unfortunately for Phelps, Ben Zobrist turned a leadoff walk into a “walking double” by stealing second base. Phelps did strike out Luke Scott and Jose Lobaton looking. However, weak-hitting Sean Rodriguez got the Rays’ first hit by singling into right to score Zobrist to stake the Rays to a 1-0 lead.
With the victory, the Yankees salvaged one game of the three-game series and improved their season record to 49-32. The Yankees remain five games ahead of the Baltimore Orioles in the American League East. The Rays are 43-39 and they are 6 1/2 games back in the third place in the division.
- Cano was 2-for-5 in the game with the two big RBIs. Cano is not only a tear with his batting average. He also has been on an unbelievable RBI tear as well. On June 16, Cano had 27 RBIs. In his last 17 games, Cano has driven in 23 runs. His two RBIs on Wednesday also gave him the team lead in RBIs this season with 50. Granderson is second with 48.
- Phelps was matching Price pitch-for-pitch and strikeout-by-strikeout. Entering the fifth, Phelps had thrown 78 pitches. Since he had been sent down by the Yankees he had not built his arm back up to 100 pitches to allow him pitch further in the game. But this start proved he could be very effective. He gave up only two hits, three walks and hit two batters in 4 1/3 innings. If he pitches like this, Freddy Garcia may go back to the bullpen when CC Sabathia returns after the All-Star break.
- Teixeira’s home run off Price – his 14th of the season – was a huge factor in getting Price out of the game. Entering the seventh, Price had given up two hits and one walk and struck out eight. Teixeira is showing a little life with his bat in going 3-for-6 in last two games.
- Logan is perhaps showing some fatigue after pitching in 41 of the Yankees’ first 81 games. In June, Logan gave up only two earned runs the entire month. In his first two appearances in July he has been scored upon in both outings, giving up three runs on two hits and a walk in 1 1/3 innings. If anybody needs rest during the All-Star break it is Logan.
- Andruw Jones and Russell Martin failed to deliver in the seventh inning with the game tied and runners at first and third with one out. Jones flew out to right (I will have more on this later) and Martin grounded out. The Yankees also left the bases loaded in the eighth when Martin hit a routine fly ball to right. Martin is now hitting .178 this season. Ouch!
- Granderson had another no contact day with two walks and three strikeouts. Granderson is on a pace to strike out a career-worst 192 times this season. His previous season high was 174 in 2006 when he was playing for the Detroit Tigers.
An obscure ground rule cost the Yankees another run in the seventh inning. With Rodriguez on second and Nick Swisher on first and one out, Rodriguez attempted a steal with Andruw Jones at the plate with a 1-2 count. Price delivered the pitch and home plate umpire Mike Estabrook called it a ball. As Lobaton drew his right hand back to throw to third base, Estabrook’s mask came in contact with the ball and the throw to third was late. However, Estabrook ruled that his interference prevented the throw and ordered Rodriguez back to second. On the next pitch, Jones lofted a fly ball to deep right that would have scored Rodriguez easily. If that is a correct rule it needs to be changed. Why if a ball strikes an umpire in the field of play isn’t the hitter made to hit again? The same logic applies, right? . . . The Yankees announced on Wednesday that they have claimed outfielder Darnell McDonald off waivers from the Red Sox and he will be placed on the 25-man roster before the Yankees’ game on Friday. The Yankees will be facing three left-handed starters this weekend and McDonald is a right-handed hitter who is hitting .214 this season with two home runs and nine RBIs.
The Yankees will have a day off at the actual halfway point of the season before beginning a four-game weekend series at Fenway Park with the Boston Red Sox starting on Friday.
The Yankees hottest pitcher, Hiroki Kuroda (8-7, 3.17 ERA), will open the series for the Yankees. Kuroda tied a career high with 11 strikeouts as he blanked the Chicago White Sox over seven innings on Saturday. Kuroda is 0-1 with a 2.57 ERA against the Red Sox lifetime.
Kuroda will be opposed by Josh Beckett (4-7, 4.06 ERA). Beckett gave up two runs in six innings in his first start back from right shoulder soreness. In his career, Beckett is 14-7 with a 5.36 ERA against the Yankees.
Game-time will be 7:10 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast nationally by the MLB Network and locally by the YES Network.