Tagged: Sergio Mitre

Super Nova Dazzles Phillies As Yankees Win In Romp

GAME 2
YANKEES 7, PHILLIES 3
Curtis Granderson and Jorge Vazquez both blasted homers and Ivan Nova began his quest for a rotation spot with two perfect innings as New York defeated Philadelphia 7-3 on Sunday in the Phillies’ spring home opener at Bright House Field in Clearwater, FL.
Sergio Mitre (1-0), who also is vying for a rotation spot, pitched a scoreless inning to get credit for the victory. Phillies right-hander Justin De Fratus (0-1) took the loss.
With the victory the Yankees evened the weekend home-and-home series with the Phillies and both teams are 1-1 this spring.
PINSTRIPE POSITIVES
  • Nova, 24, looked sensational in his two innings of work. He threw only 21 pitches and 14 of them were strikes, he fanned two and he did not allow a ball to get out of the infield. Five of the six batters he faced were Phillies veterans Jimmy Rollins, Shane Victorino, Raul Ibanez, Ryan Howard and Placido Polanco. So to say that Nova made an early statement would be an understatement.
  • Granderson’s two-run homer to left-field off De Fratus with Brett Gardner aboard in the fourth inning opened the scoring for the Yankees. The opposite-field blast was aided by a 7 mile-per-hour breeze to left.
  • Vazquez, 28, a 10-year veteran of the Mexican League, is also making a statement by blasting his second home run in the Yankees’ first two spring contests. After launching a 440-foot blast over the batter’s eye in center-field at Steinbrenner Field on Saturday, Vazquez launched his second spring home run to left off Phils closer Brad Lidge in the ninth inning. Vazquez originally was considered a longshot to make the team because he is listed behind Mark Teixeira, Jorge Posada, Nick Swisher and non-roster veteran Eric Chavez on the depth chart at first base.
  • During a four-run explosion off Phillies right-hander Michael Schwimer, Swisher and Posada each contributed RBI doubles and 21-year-old catching prospect Jesus Montero added an RBI single.
  • 22-year-old pitching sensation Dellin Betances also had Yankees veterans shaking their heads in disbelief. The rookie right-hander struck out the side and walked one batter in the fifth inning. The Phillies could not catch up with his high heater clocked as high as 97 mph.
NAGGING NEGATIVES
  • Former Atlanta Braves reliever Buddy Carlyle was roughed up in the bottom of the ninth inning, giving up a two-run home run to Ben Francisco. Carlyle, 33, is longshot to make the team this spring.
  • Francisco also spoiled 23-year-old right-hander Adam Warren’s spring debut. He stroked a RBI double off Warren in the seventh to make the score 6-1. Warren did not help his cause by walking two batters in his 1 1/3 inning of work.
  • Chavez debuted as a first baseman on Sunday and he almost made an error on a grounder in the second inning and he was 0-for-3 at the plate. With Vazquez hitting a pair of bombs, Chavez, 33, suddenly has some added pressure on his development as a backup corner infielder.
BOMBER BANTER
The Yankees enjoyed another day of beautiful weather. The game-time temperature was 78 degrees and 10,767 fans enjoyed a sun-splashed afternoon of baseball.  . . .  The Yankees have lost non-roster infielder Ronnie Belliard for about a week with a right calf strain. Belliard, 35, injured himself during pregame warmups and was scratched from the starting lineup. Brandon Laird started in his place at third base. Belliard did not endear himself to the Yankee brass by showing up for camp overweight.  . . .  Pitcher Andrew Brackman , who has been sidelined with a sore groin, played catch on Sunday and will be re-evaluated on Monday. He is listed as day-to-day.  . . .  Manager Joe Girardi indicated that catcher Russell Martin, who is recovering from right surgery, will DH on Monday and is expected to catch later in the week.
ON DECK
The Yankees will travel to Lakeland, FL, to face the Detroit Tigers on Monday. A much more svelte CC Sabathia will make his first spring start for the Yankees. The starting infield of Mark Teixeira, Robinson Cano, Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez is expected to make the trip and start.
The Tigers will counter with their ace, right-hander Justin Verlander, which will be a preview of the matchup on Opening Day at Yankee Stadium on March 31. Miguel Cabrera will make his debut at DH in a spring already marred by a DUI arrest.
Game-time is 1:05 p.m. and the game will not be telecast. 
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Soriano’s Signing Gives Yankees Formidable Bullpen

As training camp opens in Tampa, FL, the New York Yankees are looking to return to their 2009 form. We will take a look at each position and see how they stack up for the 2011 season. Just how good are the Yankees? Let’s find out:
RELIEF PITCHING
Cliff Lee’s loss was essentially Rafael Soriano’s gain.
When Lee spurned the Yankees’ more lucrative offer to rejoin a Philadelphia Phillies team that had traded him a year before, Soriano ostensibly was signed to a free-agent contract with some of the money Lee turned his back upon.
Though general manager Brian Cashman was not part of the deal, it actually makes the Yankees’ bullpen one of the strongest in baseball heading into the 2011 season.
That is a good thing, too, because the starters have a bunch of question marks hanging over the heads after CC Sabathia and Phil Hughes.
The Soriano signing gives the Yankees a setup man who was one of the best closers in baseball in 2010. With the Tampa Bay Rays Soriano, 31, was 3-2 with a 1.73 ERA and he converted 45 of 48 save chances.
This in only his second year as full-time closer.
The cash-strapped Rays could not afford to keep him so Soriano sought a closer’s role elsewhere. But the Yankees lured him with a lot of cash and a contract provision that will allow him to leave for another team in 2012.
Though that does look good for the Yankees down the road, 2011 promises to be much better with Soriano holding down the eighth inning and legend Mariano Rivera taking the ball in the ninth.
It is by far the best back end of the bullpen duo the Yankees have had since the days of Rivera and John Wetteland in 1996 before Rivera took over as the full-time closer in 1997.
Rivera, now at age 41, has managed to silence those who thought he was on the decline in 2010. He was 3-3 with a 1.80 ERA and converted 33 of 38 save opportunities. The sub-2.00 ERA was Rivera’s seventh such season in the past eight years.
But, to be honest, the Yankees were concerned about Rivera’s spells of numbness in his side last season, He also pitched with a balky knee at times. Nothing serious, but they are things that do worry a team when their closer is over 40.
So Soriano not only brings a very good setup man to the team. He also can be a nice substitute when Rivera is ailing or needs rest. That is luxury manager Joe Girardi loves to have going into the season.
The rest of the Yankee bullpen looks just as solid.
Though lefty specialist Damaso Marte, 36, is expected to miss most — if not all — of the 2011 season recovering from shoulder surgery, the Yankees have a holdover and free agent to replace him.
The Yankees signed former Met Pedro Feliciano, 34, to become the lefty specialist this season. Feliciano was 3-6 with a 3.30 ERA last season. In the past three seasons, Feliciano has made more appearances than any pitcher baseball with 344. The next closest pitcher, Matt Guerrier of the Twins, had 42 less.
Feliciano is a master at retiring right-hand hitters. They batted .211 off him last season. So Feliciano will come in every other day to face tough lefties like David Ortiz, Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez of the Red Sox.
Lefty holdover Boone Logan, 26, turned a huge corner in his development into a major-league reliever last season. Logan was 2-0 with a 2.93 ERA in 51 appearances. The big change was Logan walked only 20 batters in 40 innings.
That number could come down some more but Logan showed an ability to pitch tough as the team’s only left-hander this season. This season he likely will be used to pitch more complete innings and could be used for multiple innings in middle relief.
David Robertson, 25, had another great season if you throw out his very horrible April and early May. Robertson was 0-1 with a 14.21 ERA on May 5. But he rebounded and became a reliable pitcher the rest of the season.
He finished with a 4-5 record and 3.82 ERA. Once again, he struck out more batters than innings pitched (71 Ks in 61 1/3 innings). Robertson will likely see a lot of action in the sixth and seventh innings.
It is hard to believe how far down in the pecking order that Joba Chamberlain has fallen. From kid phenom setup man in 2007 to promising starter in 2008 to a flop of a starter in 2009 to a flop as a reliever in 2010.
Chamberlain, 25, was 3-4 with a 4.40 ERA and he was so inconsistent that the Yankees were forced to acquire Kerry Wood from the Indians to set up Rivera. 
His velocity is not gone completely. It is just not what it was before he suffered a shoulder injury late in the 2009 season. More importantly, Chamberlain has not had the same command on what was a deadly slider.
Chamberlain actually enters a perfect scenario for him to rebound in 2011. There will be no pressure on him as a setup man and new pitching coach Larry Rothschild has a clean slate from which to start repairing the big right-hander.
There is no need for the Yankees to give up on him at this age but Chamberlain could easily be packaged in a trade for a starter at some point this season.
There is only one spot left in the bullpen and it likely will go to a pitcher who can both start and pitch long relief. That could be Sergio Mitre, who is in competition for the fifth starter job.
Mitre, 30, pitched poorly in three starts in 2010 but excelled as a long reliever. He was 0-3 with a 3.33 ERA. He also posted an excellent Walks and Hits to Innings Pitched (WHIP) ratio of 1.09. He gave up only 43 hits and 16 walks in 54 innings.
If veteran non-roster right-hander Freddy Garcia, 34, shows he can pitch like he did in recording a 12-6 record with the White Sox in 2010, the Yankees would be content on starting Garcia and using Mitre as a spot starter and long reliever in 2011.
The only other reliever on the 40-man roster who pitched for the Yankees in 2010 is Romulo Sanchez and he pitched in just two games. He did pitch well in those two games and the Yankees like his power arm.
Among the non-roster invitees are a pair of former major-leaguers. One is 33-year-old Luis Ayala, who has not pitched in the major leagues since 2009. However, the Yankees were impressed with his work this winter in Mexico.
He had 14 saves and 1.99 ERA this winter, which earned him a minor-league contract with an invitation to spring training. The right-hander was a standout relief pitcher for the Montreal Expos and the Washington Nationals from 2003-2007.
The Yankees also invited Andrew Sisco, 28, to spring training. The 6-foot-10 right-hander was a coming star with the Kansas City Royals in 2005 but elbow problems have short-circuited his career. He has not pitched in the major leagues since 2007.
Ayala and Sisco enter camp as longshots.
One other interresting name in the mix is Mark Prior. The former Cubs phenom is now 30 and he has not pitched in the majors since 2006.
The former No. 1 pick was 18-6 with a 2.43 ERA in 2003 and seemed headed to stardom but arm miseries have shelved him ever since. But Prior is hoping to make it back to the majors as a reliever. He hopes to prove to the Yankees his is finally healthy.
The Yankees are willing to see what he has at this point. He will be watched closely.
But the real truth is there are very few spots available on the Yankees’ staff and the bullpen looks stacked, barring injury.
There are not many teams in baseball that can boast two pitchers who combined to save 78 games in 86 chances with sub-2.00 ERAs. That means the Yankees hope to cover up a shaky rotation with a very good bullpen capable of shutting down teams from the seventh inning on.
With a good offense the Yankees could just make that a workable strategy in 2011.
So the Yankees’ opponents must be forewarned: If you want to beat the Yankees in 2011, you better score early or you won’t score much at all.

Starting Staff Looks Weak But Could Become Stronger

As training camp opens in Tampa, FL, the New York Yankees are looking to return to their 2009 form. We will take a look at each position and see how they stack up for the 2011 season. Just how good are the Yankees? Let’s find out:
STARTING PITCHING
There is no way to sugarcoat it. There is no way to suggest something that is not there. It is obvious the Yankees’ starting pitching “on paper” looks pretty weak.
When spring training games begin this Saturday we will find how bad it is. But every March spring hope seems to blossom. The Yankees are left hoping their pitching will grow into the job just enough to push it toward their 28th championship.
Perhaps having former Rays manager and Cubs pitching coach Larry Rothschild can help whip this staff into shape. Rothschild will take over for Dave Eiland and he promises to get results out of this staff.
When it comes to ace left-hander C.C. Sabathia, Rothschild will not have to do any tinkering at all. Sabathia has been every bit what the Yankees have wanted him to be the past two seasons.
In his brief Yankee career, Sabathia, 30, has started 68 regular-season games and is 40-15 with a 3.27 ERA and 394 strikeouts. His postseason work in 2009 led the Yankees to their first championship in nine seasons.
However, Sabathia’s work in the postseason of 2010 was hampered by a torn meniscus in his right knee. The knee has been repaired and Sabathia arrived in camp 25 pounds lighter to take stress off the knee.
The Yankees are not thinking about Sabathia’s right to opt out of his contract after this season. They are focused instead on making sure their ace stays healthy and remains productive in 2011.
The Yankees biggest surprise of 2010 was right-hander Phil Hughes
Hughes, 24, was part of a five-man battle for the No. 5 spot in the rotation last spring. He ended up winning the job and was 18-8 with a 4.19 ERA in his first season as a starter. By any standard, that is pretty good.
The Yankees hope Hughes builds upon that with an even better 2011 season. 
His win total was inflated largely because the Yankees made him the best supported pitcher in baseball. But Hughes is actually the poster boy for how the 2011 staff will have to operate. If the offense is clicking at more than five runs a game it might hide the fact this staff is not as good.
Hughes benefitted from the 2010 season and showed growth as a competitor and has become more of a pitcher rather than a thrower. The Yankees’ patience with Hughes paid off and Rothschild only needs to get Hughes to keep his pitch counts down to keep him games longer.
Hughes, towards that end, hopes to rely even more on the changeup he developed last season. 
A change of pace is also what is needed for A.J. Burnett. Signed to a lucrative four-year deal along with Sabathia two seasons ago, Burnett has seen good times and bad.
Last season was just plain bad as his 10-15 record and 5.26 ERA would indicate. Burnett was never a model of proper pitching mechanics but last season he lost all sense of his release point or where his pitches were going.
The effect of the beatings he took made the problem mental. It only got worse as the season wore on and Burnett has more pressure on him this spring than any pitcher in camp. 
Rothschild has some ideas to “fix” A.J. and Burnett can’t wait to show off the new look. Yankee fans would settle for his 2010 numbers of 13-9 with a 4.04 ERA. Yankee fans also realize a confident and composed Burnett is capable to dominating any team in baseball when he is on.
The 2009 Philadelphia Phillies found that out in Game Two of the World Series. Burnett is the key to the Yankees’ success and Yankee fans hope to see more of Good A.J. and less of Bad A.J. in 2011.
Well, give me credit. I have not mentioned Cliff Lee or Andy Pettitte to this point. One reason is that it is hard to make a case for what the Yankees do not have. But these two veteran left-handers both decided they did not want to pitch for the Yankees in 2011.
They combined last season for a 23-12 record and a 3.22 ERA. Lee chose, surprisingly, to join a Phillies team that traded him away in 2010 and he signed for less money than the Yankees were offering.
Pettitte simply decided he had enough at age 38 and retired. There are some Yankee fans who believe Pettitte might consider a midseason comeback. But the Yankees can’t count on that to save them.
They instead will look to rookie right-hander Ivan Nova, who was 1-2 with a 4.50 ERA in seven starts and three relief appearances last season.
Nova showed promise at age 24 and the Yankees would like him succeed in the same way as Hughes did during his first full season as a starter. Nova’s strength is his competitiveness and he has a 93 mph fastball and a knee-buckling curve.
He only needs to learn to get through the batting order a second and third time. Last season he seemed to struggle with his command the second time through. That is where Rothschild will be of great help.
Veteran Sergio Mitre is penciled in as the No. 5 starter. Pencil being the operative word.
Mitre did pitch very well out the bullpen last season. He was 0-3 with a 3.33 ERA in 24 relief stints and three spot starts. 
But to ask Mitre, 30, to become a starter two years removed from Tommy John surgery maybe asking a lot. Mitre has only one full season as a starter under his belt. That was the 2007 season with the Florida Marlins with then-manager Joe Girardi.
He was 5-8 with a 4.65 ERA in 27 starts.
The Yankees have invited veteran right-hander Freddy Garcia into camp as a non-roster player. Garcia actually stands a very good chance of making the team as the fifth starter.
Garcia, 34, was 12-6 with a 4.64 ERA with the Chicago White Sox last season. He also has a q33-87 record and a career ERA of 4.13. So Garcia looks to have better credentials as a starter than Mitre.
The fastball is no longer what it was (about 87 mph now) but Garcia stayed healthy and showed he can win with his off-speed assortment if he gets run support. That should not be a problem with the Yankees.
Keeping Garcia as the fifth starter would allow Mitre to retain his long relief duties in the bullpen, which he succeeded at in 2010.
The Yankees also will be taking a look at 2005 American League Cy Young award winner Bartolo Colon as a non-roster starter this spring. 
Colon did not pitch in the major leagues in 2010 but impressed the Yankees with his work in winter ball.
Colon faces long odds because he has not pitched a full season in the majors since 2005 because of arm injuries. At age 37 and at about 250 pounds Colon also looks more like a beer league pitcher that a major leaguer.
But the desperate times call for desperate measures and Colon will get a look-see.
The Yankees also have a pretty full cupboard of young pitching prospects this spring. They include former Notre Dame star David Phelps, Dellin Betances, Hector Noesi and D.J. Mitchell. 
The Yankees also
have former No. 1 draft pick Andrew Brackman opening eyes after recovering from elbow surgery two seasons ago. Down the line the Yankees have a mage-prospect in Manny Banuelos, who Baseball America raves about as one of its best pitching prospects.
However, to expect any of these pitcher to step in and win at the major-league level may be asking way too much. Developing pitchers takes patience and allowing young pitchers to make mistakes and learn to escape from jams.
In the competitive A.L. East that is unlikely. But, out of necessity, the Yankees could promote one or two of these pitchers to either fill in for injured starters or take over for failing ones.
General manager Brian Cashman also is hopeful of finding more of a buyer’s market for starters at the midseason mark. Pitchers like Chris Carpenter, Edwin Jackson, John Danks and Carlos Zambrano may be available then and the Yankees may have a package of youngsters to trade to bolster the starting rotation.
So while the current makeup of the starting rotation may not conjure images of a championship rotation now, it very well could grow into one by season’s end.
There is no question there is concern here. But never count out the Steinbrenner family’s deep pockets and Cashman’s desire to put a winning product on the field for Girardi.
We will see how things develop. The Yankees only need time to work it all out.

With Soriano Signed Is Joba Heading To Trading Block?

The signing of Rafael Soriano was not what the New York Yankees had in mind when the free-agent signing season began. The big prize was supposed to be Cliff Lee.
It was as if Brian Cashman made a date with Jessica Alba but reached to the door only to find Ellen DeGeneres. 
But the Yankees could have done worse than sign Soriano to what amounts to a series of graduated one-year contracts in which Soriano will be allowed to opt out to close with another team.
Soriano, 31, was 3-2 with a 1.73 ERA and led the American League with 45 saves in 48 chances. That is not bad for a pitcher slated to set up Mariano Rivera and certainly an upgrade over Kerry Wood, who claimed that job in August but left to return to the Chicago Cubs.
The Yankees bullpen now looks a bit more formidable with Rivera and Soriano set to pitch the final two innings. The Yankees also signed left-hander Pedro Feliciano to go with young lefty Boone Logan and they still have right-handers David Robertson and Joba Chamberlain.
The question has been raised and the Yankees have answered it: Will Chamberlain be moved back to the rotation now that it appears Andy Pettitte will not likely pitch in 2011? The Yankees have said no.
So the next question is what is Chamberlain’s future with the Yankees?
At age 22, Chamberlain arrived in the Bronx and appeared poised for superstardom after posting a 2-0 record and an 0.38 ERA in 19 games in 2007.
But very soon after the midges in Cleveland drove him and the Yankees out of the playoffs, Chamberlain’s road to become the eventual successor to Rivera took a strange detour.
In 2008, Chamberlain was shifted at midseason to a starter. He finished 2008 with a 4-3 record and a 2.60 ERA. In 2009, he was a full-fledged starter but seemed hamstrung on the Yankees’ very cautious so-called Joba Rules.
He was a disappointing 9-6 with a 4.75 ERA and the Yankees shifted him into the bullpen for the 2009 playoffs rather than use him as a No. 4 starter. He appeared to regain a measure of confidence there and was 1-0 with a 2.84 ERA in 10 postseason games.
The Yankees, rather than embarrass Chamberlain, allowed him to compete in 2010 for a starting job with four other pitchers. When Phil Hughes emerged as the winner, Chamberlain was shifted back to the bullpen, ostensibly, for good.
The Yankees expected him to resume his 2007 role as setup man for Rivera. That did not work out too well. Chamberlain struggled through stretches of the season and two games became his undoing.
On May 29, Chamberlain entered the game in the seventh inning with a 10-5 lead over the Indians. The Indians rallied for seven runs, four of them charged to Chamberlain, in an eventual 13-11 victory over the Yankees.
On July 10, Chamberlain came in to hold a tenuous 1-0 lead Javier Vazquez had left him against Felix Hernandez. Chamberlain could not retire anyone and ended up serving up a grand-slam home run to Jose Lopez in a 4-1 defeat in Seattle.
Chamberlain lost the setup role to Wood and ended the season 3-4 with a 4.40 ERA. He blew four save opportunities out of seven chances. 
Now what?
If Rivera completes the two years on his contract and Soriano stays to pitch three years and replaces Rivera, Chamberlain’s window to become a closer for the Yankees will have to wait four years and Joba will be a seasoned 29 years old by then.
His window to return as a setup man is possibly two years away. 
Hmmm! 
Would it seem possible that the Yankees might see with Rivera still effective, Soriano in the setup role, with the presence of Robertson and no plans to make Joba a starter that Chamberlain now becomes a prime trading chip?
If there was ever a time Chamberlain seemed close to being traded this is it. The Yankees need a starter and there are teams who still are intrigued by Chamberlain’s arm. He can still throw with velocity.
Contrary to reports that Chamberlain lost his fastball when he went to the bullpen, he was regularly hitting 97 mph and above on the gun late last season. The problem with Chamberlain is not velocity.
It seems that his signature slider that devastated hitters in 2007 and 2008 is not staying in the strike zone long enough to get hitters to bite on it. His fastball, no matter how fast it is thrown, is straight and hittable. His curve is an afterthought. He rarely throws it as a reliever.
So somehow Chamberlain has to develop a slider he can throw for strikes or he is going to have some miserable outings.
New pitching coach Larry Rothschild will have that task this spring unless the Yankees unload Chamberlain. That seems more likely in lieu of the fact the Yankees signed free-agent catcher Russell Martin.
That means that the Yankees are going to have to decide which catcher to play at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre this season: Jesus Montero or Austin Romine. They could rotate and DH one while the other catches or they could simply trade one.
Montero has power compared to that of Mike Piazza. Yankee fans have been salivating over his arrival and want to see him stay. But the Yankees were willing to part with him to obtain Lee last summer from the Mariners.
So why not trade Montero and Chamberlain for a starter now? It seems likely that either Montero or Romine could go before spring training begins. 
The Yankees also have a solid shortstop prospect in Eduardo Nunez who is stuck behind Derek Jeter and slugging third baseman Brandon Laird who is blocked by Alex Rodriguez. They also have young pitchers Hector Noesi, Dellin Betances and Ryan Pope to dangle to teams looking to stock there minor-league system with a starting pitcher.
Unfortunately, the stock of available veteran pitchers does not contain a starter of Lee’s pedigree. What the Yankees are likely looking for a pitcher who can pitch 200 innings, win 12 or more games and it would be a plus if the pitcher had some postseason experience.
The Phillies would love to unload Joe Blanton’s hefty contract. However, the Yankees may not want to pay the Phillies steep price for him. So Cashman may have to look at pitchers like Edwin Jackson or Paul Maholm. Neither of those confer the status of stars but are definite upgrades over Vazquez.
Or Cashman could play wait-and-see and look to make a trade deadline deal for a better pitcher like Carlos Zambrano, who the Yankees would love to pry from the Cubs if they are not in the pennant chase in 2011. 
But with Pettitte out of the picture, it appears the Yankees are in no position to wait long. CC Sabathia is the unquestioned ace. Phil Hughes will look to build on his breakthrough 2010 campaign. 
But what will A.J. Burnett offer? Is Ivan Nova ready as Hughes was in 2010? Do the Yankees really plan to use Sergio Mitre as their No. 5 starter?
This is probably the shakiest rotation the Yankees have had in many years. Cashman knows it needs fixing but it appears the arms to fix it are out of reach for now. But there is still time and Cashman knows his future is predicated on keeping the Yankees competitive.
He can’t afford to wait.

Mo Reportedly Will Sign 2-Year Deal To Remain In Bronx

Exit light
Enter night
Take my hand
We’re off to never-never land

                                                                                      – “Enter Sandman” by Metallica


Yankee fans may be able to sleep a lot better knowing that the best closer in baseball history is returning for two more seasons.
Mariano Rivera, 41, reportedly has agreed to a two-year deal for $15 million per season. That is certainly good news to Yankee management, players and fans. The Yankees really have no creditable replacement for “The Sandman” and, after a season in which Rivera recorded 33 saves with a 1.80 ERA, he proved he is not losing his effectiveness.
Rivera now stands poised to challenge Treveor Hoffman’s major-league saves record. Hoffman, 42, has 601 career saves but he lost his role as a closer with the Milwaukee Brewers in 2010 and is currently a free agent.
Rivera is only 42 saves behind Hoffman with 559. The two-year deal assures him opportunity to pass Hoffman.
Rivera’s career numbers pretty much have given him first-ballot entrance into the Hall of Fame. He is 74-55 with a career ERA of 2.23. He also has blown only 49 saves in 608 chances. That is a career save percentage of 92 percent.
He also has led the Yankees to five world titles and is 8-1 with an incredible 0.71 ERA in postseason play and a major-league leading 42 career postseason saves.
To put it mildly, Rivera is the most valuable piece to any puzzle the Yankees need to assemble to a world championship club in 2011.
Though he has been nagged by minor ailments to his knee, ribs and shoulder, Rivera has also proven to be durable over his 16 major-league seasons. Rivera has also been helpful to teammates by teaching them his signature cutter.
In 2010, pitchers Phil Hughes and Kerry Wood employed their own version of the cutter under the tutelage of the master, Rivera. 
The Yankees only need now to shore up the pieces of the bullpen to get to Rivera since the team elected not pick up Wood’s expensive $11 million option. The Yankees will retain Joba Chamberlain, David Robertson, Boone Logan and Sergio Mitre. They also hope to get lefty specialist Damaso Matre back sometime during the 2011 season.
However, they chose to release Alfredo Aceves and Dustin Moseley on Friday. Aceves was sidelined most of the 2010 season with a severe back injury and broke his collarbone this off-season.
Moseley was 4-4 with a 4.96 ERA as a part-time starter and long reliever.
So the Yankees will be looking for relief help in the free-agent market to fill in the missing pieces. Their chances of re-signing Wood are slim since he is looking for a chance to close with another club.
But one target could be Toronto Blue Jays left-hander Scott Downs, who was 5-5 with a 2.64 ERA in 67 games last season. Downs, 34, also has some experience as a closer, collecting 16 saves in 32 chances in his nine major-league seasons.
Downs has a dual utility to the Yankees He is an experienced left-hander who can get tough lefties out — lefties hit only .152 against him last season. In addition, with Rivera advancing in age Downs could close if the Yankees needed him to do so.
The only problem in signing Downs will come down to price. He figures to get a lot of offers from contending teams looking for quality left-handers in their bullpen. But it is clear the Yankees would have an interest in him.
Now they can tout to Downs he will have an opportunity to set up a living legend in Rivera.
ON THE JETER TRAIL  . . .  It also appears that this blog’s prediction the Yankees would increase their initial three-year, $45 million offer to Derek Jeter has come true. Sources indicate the Yankees have increased their offer $2 million to $3 million per season. 
At the same time, Jeter’s agent, Casey Close, lowered his initial demand for a contract paying $23 million per season,
It appears the two sides are heading to the midpoint of about $19 million per season over three seasons or in that vicinity. Jeter made $18.9 million over the past 10 years under his old contract, so it appears he could accept what would be essentially an extension of that contract for three seasons. 
The Yankees can say they did not have to pay Jeter above what he was making and Close can claim his client did not take a pay cut. Both sides win and the Yankees will have their captain back in the fold.
Things are definitely looking up for Yankee fans in advance of baseball’s Winter Meetings in Orlando, FL, on Monday.
STAY TUNED . . . 


Burnett And Vazquez Torpedo Yankees’ Starting Rotation

With the end of the season it is time to hand out the final report cards for the New York Yankees for 2010. The Yankees reached the halfway point with the best record in baseball but with much promise to even improve in the second half. But some key injuries and some inconsistency with the starting pitchers dragged this team down a few notches. They qualified as a wild card but to defend their 2009 title they will have to dig deep. Here are the grades:


STARTING PITCHERS

CC Sabathia (21-7, 3.18 ERA)
Phil Hughes (18-8, 4.19 ERA)
Andy Pettitte (11-3, 3.28 ERA)
A.J. Burnett (10-15, 5.26 ERA)
Javier Vazquez (10-10, 5.32 ERA)

Other starters: Dustin Moseley, Ivan Nova and Sergio Mitre

At the midway point I proclaimed the Yankees starting pitching the best in baseball. It shows you what I know.
To be fair to me, though, the Yankees’ starting five was the best at the halfway point. They were a combined 48-21 with a 3.86 ERA. They also were averaging just over 6 1/3 innings per start.
Sabathia, Pettitte and Hughes had 11 or more wins and they were the first trio to do that since the 1999 Houston Astros starters Shane Reynolds, Jose Lima and Mike Hampton. All three were named to the American League All-Star team although Sabathia was ineligible to pitch because he started on the Sunday before the Tuesday game.
So what happened to the best starting five in baseball?
Well, three key things brought this staff crashing to Earth:
  • On July 18 Andy Pettitte was pitching in the third inning at Yankee Stadium in a game against the Tampa Bay Rays when he felt pain in his left groin. Pettitte left the game and ended up on the disabled list through Sept. 10. Pettitte was arguably pitching the best baseball of his career and the Yankees lost their second-best pitcher.
  • A.J. Burnett always has been an enigma — good one start and awful the next. But even he could not have predicted the dreadful month of August he would have. In his five starts, Burnett was 0-4 with a 7.80 ERA. In addition, Burnett never really rebounded. He was 1-3 with a 5.60 ERA the rest of the way. With Pettitte out, Burnett was expected to step up and help the Yankees overcome it. Instead, he pitched worse than he ever has with the Yankees and he is not expected to start a game in the first round of the playoffs.
  • Javier Vazquez looked like he had put his early season problems behind him. He was 7-7 with a 4.45 ERA at the midpoint after starting the season 1-3 with a 9.78 ERA. But he slumped miserably in August, going 1-2 with a 8.10 ERA through Aug. 21, when he was pulled from the rotation in favor of rookie Ivan Nova. Vazquez made only three more starts the rest of the season and they all were dreadful. As a result, Vazquez, who finished fourth in the National League Cy Young Award voting last season, was left off the playoff roster.
With Pettitte on the shelf and Burnett and Vazquez giving up more runs than a cheap pair of stockings, Sabathia and Hughes were saddled with having to carry the rotation most of the second half.
Sabathia was up to the task. He was 9-4 with a 3.29 ERA and he managed to win 20 games for the first time in his career. His 21-7 record makes him a front-runner for the Cy Young Award. It would be his second.
Hughes, on the other hand, struggled a bit but still won because the Yankees honored him by giving the most run support of any starter in baseball. Hughes was 7-6 with a 4.90 ERA. Hughes seemed to wear down a bit under the weight of an upcoming innings limit, which forced the Yankees to skip his turn on occasion.
Nonetheless, Hughes can consider an 18-8 record as the team’s No. 5 starter in his first full season in the rotation at age 24 a pretty good season no matter what the struggles were down the stretch.
Moseley made seven starts in place of Pettitte at the end of July and throughout August. He was 4-2 with a 5.03 ERA. He was credited with three quality starts. But after being hammered for four runs on five hits and four walks against Oakland on Aug. 30, Moseley only made two more starts the rest of the season.
He was 0-2 with a 6.17 ERA in those starts. So, needless to say, he was not much of a replacement for Pettitte.
The Yankees recalled 23-year-old rookie right-hander Nova from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre on Aug. 23. He made seven starts in late August and September in place of Vazquez and was 1-1 with a 4.91 ERA 
Although Nova showed great promise for future success at the major-league level with his assortment of pitches and his poise, he struggled the second time through lineups and could not limit his pitch counts.
For the first half the starting five received the following grades:
Sabathia A-
Burnett C
Pettitte A+
Vazquez C
Hughes A+
Their second-half grades are as follows:
Sabathia A+
Burnett D
Pettitte I (Incomplete)
Vazquez F
Hughes C
Their 2010 overall grades are as follows:
Sabathia A+
Burnett D+
Pettitte A-
Vazquez D-
Hughes B+
OVERALL STARTING PITCHER GRADE: C+

The overall record of 50-18 by Sabathia, Pettitte and Hughes more than makes up for the horrible 20-25 record posted by Burnett and Vazquez. 
Still, the inability of Moseley or Nova to really step up and pitch well late in the season really doomed the Yankees to their September swoon that cost them the best record in baseball and first place in the American League East.
The Yankees are going to have to make some tough decisions on what to do with Burnett and Vazquez next season. Both are under contract and both are owed a lot of money. Trading either or both would be difficult unless the Yankees picked up a portion of the contracts.
It is n
o secret the Yankees covet Cliff Lee. They nearly had him at the trade deadline until the Mariners stabbed the Yankees in the back and made a deal with the Rangers instead. But Lee will be a free agent and his buddy Sabathia likely can convince him to sign if the money is right.
The Yankees also may have a potential young starter in Nova. If he continues to develop, he could be of great help as a starter in 2011.
In the meantime, the Yankees’ hopes for a 28th championship once again ride on just three starters: Sabathia, Pettitte and Hughes. The Yankees have Burnett on the roster for the first series but he is not scheduled to start a game.
The Yankees likely will have to use him if the Yankees make the AL Championship Series and the World Series. What they get from him is a big mystery. 
It is troubling to think of what could have been if Burnett and Vazquez had just pitched adequately this season. If the Yankees do not repeat as champions it is obvious who the fans are going to blame.

Mo’s Health, Joba’s Improvement Keys To Yankees’ Bullpen

It is the halfway point of the season for the New York Yankees and you all know what that means. That’s right, it’s time to had out grades for the first term. Some of our Yankees were scholars and some need some remedial work. But with the best record in baseball the Yankees already have a great grade as a team. The funny thing is that they have not really pushed themselves and there is still potential to be even better in the second half. Let’s start evaluating the positions and players.



BULLPEN

Mariano Rivera
Joba Chamberlain
David Robertson
Damaso Marte
Chan Ho Park
Chad Gaudin
Dustin Moseley

Other contributors: Alfredo Aceves, Boone Logan, Sergio Mitre, Ivan Nova, Romulo Sanchez and Mark Melancon

Based on what they did in 2009 and the fact that Joba Chamberlain was back in the bullpen where he belonged, the New York Yankees’ relief corps looked strong heading into the 2010 season.
The fact the Yankees are currently in first place in the American League East and they have the best record in baseball at the All-Star break means that the bullpen can’t be really that bad.
Howver, it has been less than stellar in the first half, despite the fact that at age 40 Mariano Rivera is having another Hall of Fame season: a 2-1 record with a 1.05 ERA and 20 saves in 22 chances.
The fact that the starters have been pitching so deep into games and the bullpen has been used less frequently in 2010, the problem has not been Rivera. It has been getting the ball to Rivera that has been the problem.
One indication of the ineffectiveness of the bullpen is the won-loss record of the bullpen this season which is 8-10. Another indication is the ERAs of the current roster:
Chamberlain 5.79
Robertson 5.46
Park 6.18
Gaudin 6.75
Marte 4.08
Moseley 3.00
This is a far cry from what the bullpen contributed in 2009 and there are many reasons why this has occurred.
No. 1, the fact that the starters have gone so deep has meant much less work from this group than last season. In 2009, Chamberlain’s struggles to last past five innings as a starter and Chien-Ming Wang’s poor start and injuries meant the bullpen was used and used again and again,
This season, there have been fewer starts of five innings or less by the rotation: 16 in 2010. That sometimes means days of inactivity and it is hard to get into a rhythm. But that is not the only reason.
The Yankees are also without to key contributors to their bullpen, Alfred Aceves and Sergio Mitre. Aceves is the Swiss Army knife of the Yankees’ bullpen. He can fill any role and last season he was 10-1 with a 3.54 ERA with one save.
This season Aceves is 1-0 with a 3.00 ERA and one save in 10 appearances but his season is in doubt because of a bulging disc in his lower back that has landed him on the disabled list since May 9.
His latest attempt to throw had to be shut down because of pain in the back and the Yankees, who are trying to avoid back surgery, are currently weighing their options. If manager Joe Girardi and pitching coach Dave Eiland were counting on having Aceves back soon, they will be waiting a long time.
Mitre, the team’s long man, has also been missed. Mitre has been on the disabled list since June 5 due to an oblique strain suffered when he was taking batting practice to prepare for interleague play.
Mitre is 0-1 with a 2.88 ERA and has been excellent in 12 appearances, which includes two spot starts. The Yankees should be getting Mitre back soon after the second half starts.
Marte has been solid and consistent. He has a 4.08 in 30 appearances and 17 2/3 innings. But he has been doing the job he has been asked to do: lefties are htting .146 off him this season.
Marte usually has been getting into trouble when he is wild (11 walks) or when he is asked to pitch more than one or two batters.
The biggest disappointments have been Park, Robertson and Chamberlain. The ERAs are one indication of their ineffectiveness. But look also at their records:
Chamberlain 1-4
Robertson 1-3
Park 1-1
This group has lost eight of the 10 games the bullpen has lost this season. In defense of Park, though, he lost an early game to the Red Sox in the first series of the season and then spent a month on the disabled list with a right hamstring strain.
His issues seem to be centered around when he is asked to pitch multiple innings. He also been pitching much better of late. He has a 3.38 ERA for this month and he seems to be regaining some of 95 mph velocity.
Robertson had most his problems early in the season. In his first 10 outings, Robertson was 1-1 with a 13.50 ERA. He has only been scored upon in three of his next 21 outings, though he did hiccup and give up four runs in 1 1/3 innings on July 2 at home to Toronto.
But Robertson looks to be solid heading into the second half.
Not so for Joba Chamberlain.
Chamberlain has been the biggest disappointment in the Yankees’ bullpen. A failed starter, Chamberlain looked to resume the eighth-inning set-up role with which he was so successful as a rookie in 2007.
The inconsistency he has shown this season has been a major concern and it culminated in a a horrendous one-inning outing in Seattle on July 10 in which he gave up two hits, threw a wild pitch and was forced to intentionally walk a batter before giving up a grand slam home run that erased a 1-0 lead Javier Vazquez had handed him.
Though Girardi maintains Chamberlain is his eighth-inning guy, there is no sense in having a bridge to Rivera that is going to blow up. 
Perhaps the pursuit of Cliff Lee may be part of this issue. The rumor was if the Yankees had acquired Lee the Yankees would have traded Vazquez for a hitter they might need.
But maybe the Yankees could have shifted Hughes back to the bullpen because he has pitched 101 of his 180 allotted innings as a starter this season. The addition of Hughes, while disappointing to Hughes himself, might solve the inconsistency problem in the eighth inning and allow Chamberlain to develop as a seventh-inning reliever instead.
Who knows? But now there are rumors the Yankees are pursuing Ted Lilly of the Chicago Cubs so the
idea to switch Hughes back to the bullpen is not a moot point yet.
In the absence of Hughes, Chamberlain is going to have to improve if the Yankees hope to hold off the Tampa Bay Rays and Boston Red Sox in the second half. Losing games in the eighth inning is painful and really hurts the team.
We will see how the bullpen plays out but the pressure is definitely on Chamberlain going forward.
Here are the grades for the first half:
Rivera A+
Chamberlain C-
Park I (Incomplete)
Robertson C+
Marte B
Gaudin C
Moseley I (Incomplete)
OVERALL BULLPEN GRADE: C

It is not out of the realm of possibility that Hughes could be placed in the bullpen long before the postseason starts. If that happens, he will most certainly resume his role as Rivera’s bridge as he was in 2009.
Chamberlain and Park need to improve their consistency. Robertson needs to continue the steady progress he has shown since April. It would be a great boost to the bullpen to get a healthy Aceves back but I do think the Yankees believe they will be getting him back anytime soon.
In the meantime, Mitre’s return will help and Marte must continue to get the tough lefties out. 
There is some concern about Rivera, too. His exit from the All-Star team was a surprise because he not only mentioned the discomfort in left side that shelved him for a week. Rivera also mentioned a sore right knee. Anytime a 40-year-old closer is talking injuries to keep him out of an All-Star game, it does sound alarm bells.
Could the trade for Lilly be all about shifting Hughes to the bullpen to replace Rivera if he goes down? We don’t know but it bears watching. The Yankees need Rivera as much as humans need oxygen. All hopes for a championship live or die with the best closer in the history of the game.