Tagged: Target Field

A-Rod Turns 40 In Style As Yankees Blast Rangers

GAME 98

YANKEES 6, RANGERS 2

The entire 2015 season has been a celebration for Alex Rodriguez because he did not play at all in 2014. On Monday, he celebrated his 40th birthday in fine style at Globe Life Park, a venue he knows very well form his days with the Rangers.

Rodriguez cranked out a home run and Didi Gregorius also homered and drove in a career-high four runs as New York continued its hot run in the heat of July by defeating Texas in front of national TV audience on ESPN.

With the Yankees leading 3-2 with one out in the sixth, Rodriguez sent a 3-1 offering from left-hander Matt Harrison (1-2) just over the wall in right-field for his 24th home run of the season and the 678th of his career.

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Rodriguez joined Ty Cobb, Rusty Staub and Gary Sheffield as the only players in baseball history who homered before turning 20 and also homered after turning 40. Rodriguez also has the distinction of hitting six home runs on his birthday  –  four of them in Arlington, TX  –  which leads all Major League players.

The run support benefitted right-hander Ivan Nova (3-3), who pitched five solid innings to win his second consecutive start after losing three consecutive starts for the first time in his career.

The Rangers actually struck first with two out in the bottom of the second inning

Josh Hamilton blooped a single in left and Elvis Andrus followed with lined RBI double off the left-field wall to plate Hamilton. Leonys Martin then rolled an RBI single to center to give the Rangers a 2-0 lead.

But the Yankees responded in the top of the third on a leadoff single by Chase Headley, one of his three hits in the game, and Gregorius followed by lining his fifth home run of the season into the right-field stands.

Brendan Ryan extended the rally by lacing a triple off the left-field wall. After Brett Gardner drew a walk, Chris Young scored Ryan on a sacrifice fly to left to give the Yankees a lead they would not relinquish the rest of the game.

Nova, 28, gave up two runs on five hits and two walks with three strikeouts in five innings. The bullpen comprised of Chasen Shreve, Justin Wilson and Dellin Betances did not yield a hit and struck out six batters over the final four innings to preserve the victory for Nova.

The Yankees chased Harrison in the seventh after Carlos Beltran drew a leadoff walk and Headley stroked a double to right-field.

Rangers manager Jeff Banister replaced Harrison with left-hander Sam Freeman but Gregorius greeted him with a two-run single to right to extend the Yankees’ lead to 6-2.

Harrison, making only his third start of the season after recovering from back surgery, was charged with six runs on six hits and two walks with two strikeouts in six-plus innings.

The Yankees have now won 12 of their past 15 games and they are 15-5 since July 1.

The team’s season record improved to 56-42 and they increased their lead over the second-place Toronto Blue Jays and Baltimore Orioles to seven games in the American League East. The Rangers fell to 47-51.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • On May 15, Gregorius was batting .202 and he was making a lot of mistakes in the field and on the bases. But very quietly Gregorius has cleaned up his play in the field and he is 20-for-68 (.294) in July with a homer and nine RBIs. That has raised his season average to . 248. Though Gregorius, 25, will never replace Derek Jeter it appears he is growing into a worthy successor.
  • Headley continued his red-hot hitting by going 3-for-4 with a double, two singles and two runs scored. Headley is 24-for-69 (.389) with a homer and 11 RBIs since July 1. That has raised his season average to .268. With Headley and Gregorius hot at the bottom part of the order it has lengthened the lineup and made it tougher for pitchers to navigate through it.
  • Rodriguez’s 24th homer of the season ties him with former Rangers teammate Mark Teixeira with the team lead. Though Rodriguez is batting only .251 this month, he has cranked out nine homers and he has four in his past two games.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

All is well. The team is getting solid starting pitching, they are scoring runs and the bullpen is shutting down opponents cold in the late innings. You add that all up and there is simply nothing wrong with this team. They are playing like they are going to coast to the division title. No complaints.

BOMBER BANTER

Manager Joe Girardi said he removed Nova after only 75 pitches in five innings because Nova complained of arm fatigue. The 28-year-old right-hander was making only sixth start of the season after returning from Tommy John surgery. Girardi said Nova said he was not experiencing any pain but just thought it was better not to try to risk going out for the sixth inning.  . . .  Outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury was not in the starting lineup a day after crashing into the wall making a great catch at Target Field but he was deployed as a defensive replacement in the eighth inning on Monday. Ellsbury jammed his right shoulder on the play but he said that Monday was a scheduled day off and the injury is not serious.  . . . Teixeira was angry with third-base coach Joe Espada on Monday after Teixeira was thrown out at the plate trying to score from second on Headley’s single with two out in the eighth inning. Espada apparently said “Easy, easy” as Teixeira rounded third but Martin threw Teixeira out at the plate. The 34-year-old first baseman threw up his arms and screamed at Espada after the play. Later Teixeira was shown throwing a cooler in the dugout.

ON DECK

The Yankees will continue their four-game road series with the Rangers on Tuesday.

Left-hander Chris Capuano (0-4, 5.64 ERA) will come out of the bullpen to make a rare start for the Yankees in order to give Masahiro Tanaka an extra day of rest. Capuano, 36, will be making only his fourth start of the season and his first since May 29. He is expected to pitch about five innings and give way to right-hander Adam Warren.

The Rangers will counter with left-hander Martin Perez (0-1, 4.91 ERA). Perez, 24, will be making only his third start of the season after coming off the disabled list. He gave up three runs on six hits and four walks with two strikeouts six innings of a no-decision against the Colorado Rockies on Wednesday.

Game-time will be 8:05 p.m. and the game will be broadcast nationally by FOX Sports 1.

 

 

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Yankees’ 6-Run Sixth Hands Eovaldi 10th Victory

GAME 97

YANKEES 7, TWINS 2

The New York Yankees seem to have a ticking time-bomb offense this season. Sometimes the fuse runs a bit longer than others but on Sunday it finally blew in the sixth inning at Target Field.

The Yankees broke up a 1-1 tie with a six-run sixth inning punctuated by a two-run homer by Stephen Drew and Nathan Eovaldi pitched into the ninth inning to earn his 10th victory as New York pounded Minnesota to go a season-high 13 games over .500.

Eovaldi (10-2) and right-hander Kyle Gibson (8-8) were locked into a 1-1 pitchers’ duel when Brett Gardner led off the sixth inning with a single and Gibson ended up loading the bases by walking both Mark Teixeira and Brian McCann.

One out later, Garrett Jones broke the tie with an RBI single to right and Chase Headley, who had homered to lead off the fifth inning to tie the game, cracked a two-run single to plate Teixeira and McCann and advance Jones to third.

Twins manager Paul Molitor replaced Gibson with left-hander Ryan O’Rourke and Didi Gregorius greeted him with a sacrifice safety-squeeze bunt that scored Jones and advanced Headley to second base.

Drew then capped the inning his two-run home run into right-field bleachers, his 13th of the season.

Gibson was charged with six runs on six hits and two walks with four strikeouts in 5 2/3 innings.

Meanwhile, after Eovaldi yielded a run in the bottom of the third inning he settled down to pitch one of his better games of the season.

Aaron Hicks reached first with one out in the third on an infield single. Brian Dozier followed with a single to left in which Hicks slid into third just ahead of a throw from center-fielder Jacoby Ellsbury and Dozier was able to reach second on the play.

Torii Hunter then hit a hard ground ball that caromed off Headley’s glove, but Gregorius was able to pick it up and get Hunter at first. However, Hicks scored on the play.

Miguel Sano opened the ninth with a double and Yankees manager Joe Girardi brought in left-hander Justin Wilson for Eovaldi. But Wilson was tagged for an RBI single up the middle by Trevor Plouffe.

After Eddie Rosario singled to right, right-hander Dellin Betances came on to get the final three outs to preserve the victory for Eovaldi, who has not lost a start since June 16 and is 5-0 with a 2.93 ERA in his past seven starts.

Eovaldi gave up two runs on eight hits and one walk with five strikeouts in eight-plus innings.

After dropping the first game of the series the Yankees were able to recover to win the last two games to run their record at Target Field to 16-5 and they have not lost a series to the Twins there since it opened in 2010.

The Yankees are 55-42 on the season and they have extended their lead over the second-place Toronto Blue Jays to 6 1/2 games in the American League East. The Twins fell to 52-46.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • The development of Eovaldi’s split-finger fastball has been a big reason why he he has been undefeated in more than month. He becomes the first Yankees starter to win 10 games this season and he lowered his season ERA to 4.27. Eovaldi, 25, came into the game averaging just over seven runs a game in support and he ended up getting exactly seven runs in this game.
  • Headley was 2-for-4 with a single, a double, two runs scored and three RBIs in the game. Since July 1, Headley is 21-for-61 (.344) with a homer and 11 RBIs. For the season he is batting .263 with nine homers and 39 RBIs.
  • Eovaldi benefitted also from some great defense behind him. Ellsbury made a spectacular running grab at the wall in center on a ball hit by Plouffe in the second inning and he later robbed Joe Mauer of an RBI single in the third inning with a diving catch. The Yankees also turned three double plays on the Twins including a game-ending lineout off the bat of Kurt Suzuki in which Headley doubled off Rosario at first base.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

Eovaldi is pitching exceptionally well for a No. 4 starter and the Yankees managed to outscore the Twins 14-2 in the final 12 innings of the series after being outscored 15-2 in the first 14 innings. They now lead in the division by 6 1/2 games so I can’t see any negatives at all.

ON DECK

The Yankees continue their road trip with a four-game series against the Texas Rangers in Rangers Ballpark beginning on Monday.

Right-hander Ivan Nova (2-3, 3.34 ERA) will open the series for the Yankees. Nova, 28, gave up two runs on just three hits and three walks with three strikeouts over six innings in a victory over the Baltimore Orioles on Wednesday.

The Rangers will start left-hander Matt Harrison (1-1, 5.40 ERA). Harrison, 29, won his first game since May 8, 2014, in a 9-0 victory over the Colorado Rockies on Wednesday. Harrison allowed seven hits, one walk and struck out two in six innings.

Game-time will be 8:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast nationally by ESPN and locally by the YES Network.

 

Yankees Rally Past Twins On A-Rod’s 3 Home Runs

GAME 96

YANKEES 8, TWINS 5

There are certain baseball sluggers than fans flock to see do magical things at the plate whether they loved them or hated them. Players like Babe Ruth, Reggie Jackson and, yes, even Alex Rodriguez. The 40-year-old designated hitter had one of those historic nights you would have wanted to see at Target Field in Minneapolis on Saturday.

With the Yankees trailing 5-0, Rodriguez proceeded to hit three long blasts  –  his final home run tying the game in the top of the ninth  –  and John Ryan Murphy later added a tie-breaking three-run shot in the same inning off All-Star closer Glen Perkins as New York pulled victory out of the jaws of defeat on a stunned Minnesota team.

Rodriguez’s three home runs in a game marked the fifth time in his career he has done it and  –  two days shy of his 40th birthday  –  he also became the fifth oldest player in Major-League history to hit three home runs in a game behind Stan Musial (41, 229 days), Jason Giambi (40, 131 days), Jackson (40, 125 days) and Ruth (40, 108 days).

His first home run was a solo shot into the left-field bleachers off left-hander Tommy Milone with two out in the fourth inning. That was the only hit the Yankees could muster off Milone in the first six innings.

After losing to the Twins 10-1 on Friday, the Yankees were looking at a possible potential sweep of the series by the Twins on Sunday after managing just two runs in the first 15 innings of the series.

But the Yankees turned the game (and possibly the series) around after the Twins had loaded the bases with out the benefit of a hit of a hit off left-hander CC Sabathia after two were out in the sixth inning. Sabathia walked Kurt Suzuki, hit Danny Santana with a pitch and then walked Brian Dozier.

Yankees manager Joe Girardi replaced Sabathia with right-hander Adam Warren, who managed to work into a 3-2 count on Aaron Hicks. His 3-2 pitch was called a strike by home-plate umpire Jeff Nelson.

Twins rookie manager Paul Molitor argued the call so vehemently that Nelson ejected him from the game.

The Yankees then opened the seventh with a leadoff single by Chris Young and Rodriguez followed by depositing Milone’s 1-1 pitch into the center-field bleachers for a two-run homer.

Mark Teixeira then doubled and left-hander Brian Duensing was summoned to replace Milone. Carlos Beltran launched a deep line drive to center that advanced Teixeira to third and Chase Headley scored Teixeira on a sacrifice fly.

Trailing 5-4 in the ninth, Rodriguez launched Perkins’ first offering into the center-field bleachers for his third home run of the night and 23rd of the season to tie the game.

Perkins (0-2) closed out the American League’s 6-3 victory in the 2015 All-Star Game and had blown only one save this season prior to Saturday. He carried a 1.37 ERA and a American-League-leading 29 saves into the contest.

With one out and Carlos Beltran at first after an out call at first base by umpire Tom Woodring was overturned to negate a double play, Headley laced a single to center to advance Beltran to third. Murphy, who entered the game with one career homer and none in 81 at-bats this season, sent a long drive into the center-field bleachers for a three-run home run to complete the improbable eight-run comeback.

Warren (6-5) pitched 2 1/3 scoreless innings of relief to earn the victory. Left-hander Andrew Miller pitched a perfect ninth inning to notch his 23rd save in 23 chances this season.

The Twins took an early 2-0 lead on Sabathia and the Yankees when the light-hitting Hicks followed a leadoff single by Dozier with only his fourth home run of the season.

Hicks created more trouble in the third with a leadoff bloop single to center. One out later, rookie slugger Miguel Sano rolled a ball against the shift to the right side for an infield single. Torii Hunter then cranked an opposite-field homer to right to give the Twins their seemingly insurmountable 5-0 margin.

The victory improved the Yankees’ season mark to 54-42 and they are 5 1/2 games ahead of the second-place Toronto Blue Jays in the American League East. The Twins dropped to 52-45.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • These are the games that stoke legends and Rodriguez’s magical night drew the Yankees back from the depths of despair. His numbers defy explanation after missing most of the past two seasons. He is batting .277 with 23 homers and 58 RBIs. If anyone saw this coming you are a better man than me. He and Mark Teixeira have combined to hit 47 homers and drive in 123 runs with 66 games left in the season.
  • The Yankees were more than content to go to the bottom of the ninth with a tie score but Murphy’s home run provided a three-run margin. Give Murphy, 24, credit for putting up a tough battle with a good closer. Backup catchers are paid to play good defense and give the starter a rest. If they provide anything offensively it is a bonus and Murphy is now hitting .271 with a homer and eight RBIs in his 23 starts.
  • Sabathia may have yielded five runs on six hits and three walks in 5 2/3 innings. But give him credit for this: From the moment Hunter cranked his 16th homer of the season, Sabathia, Warren and Miller held the Twins to just one hit (a two-out single by Suzuki in the eighth) the rest of the game. If the pitching did not keep the Twins off the board the Yankees likely would not have won.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • The Yankees pretty much were sleepwalking through this series until the seventh inning on Saturday. They had just one hit in the first six innings and ended the night with 10. In fact, they outhit the Twins 10 to 7. Phil Hughes shut them out for seven innings on Friday and Milone held them to one run in six until he finally unraveled in the seventh. That is embarrassing.
  • Michael Pineda and Sabathia combined to yield 10 runs on 14 hits and three walks in 10 2/3 innings the past two nights. That is an 8.44 ERA. Starting pitching had been a strong suit of the Yankees 9-2 run up until Friday. The starters have to keep the Yankees in the game in order for them to unleash their strong bullpen.

BOMBER BANTER

Girardi told reporters on Saturday that the Yankees will not pitch Masahiro Tanaka on Tuesday against the Texas Rangers in order to give the 26-year-old right-hander an extra day of rest. The Yankees likely will start either Warren or left-hander Chris Capuano and give each pitcher about 50 pitches. Girardi said top pitching prospect Luis Severino and right-hander Bryan Mitchell, who are both pitching at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, are not viable options. The right-handed Severino pitched on Friday and Mitchell pitched on Saturday. Tanaka will start against the Rangers on Wednesday because the team is managing his innings in the wake of his partially torn elbow ligament that sidelined him for two months last season.  . . .  The Yankees signed right-hander Nick Goody to a Major-League contract and called him up from Scranton to add a fresh arm to the bullpen. In order to get Goody on the 25-man roster right-hander Branden Pinder was sent back to Scranton and to get him on the 40-man roster the team designated for assignment infielder Gregorio Petit. Goody, 24, has a 1.35 ERA in five appearances at Scranton after being promoted from Double-A Trenton. Pinder, 26, had a 2.92 ERA in 11 appearances with the Yankees this season. Petit, 30, hit .167 with no homers and five RBIs in 42 at-bats with the Yankees.

ON DECK

The Yankees will now look to build upon their miracle comeback victory to win the three-game series with the Twins on Sunday.

Right-hander Nathan Eovaldi (9-2, 4.43 ERA) will start the finale. Eovaldi, 25, gave up two runs on four hits and three walks with four strikeouts in 5 2/3 innings in a game the Yankees eventually won against the Baltimore Orioles on Tuesday. He has never faced the Twins.

Eovaldi will be opposed by right-hander Kyle Gibson (8-7, 3.19 ERA). Gibson, 27, was shelled for six runs on 10 hits and one walk with six strikeouts in five-plus innings against the Los Angeles Angels on Tuesday.

Game-time will be 2:10 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast by the YES Network.

 

Yankees Sweep O’s As Early Big Lead Aids Tanaka

GAME 94

YANKEES 9, ORIOLES 4

The 1927 Yankees with Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig were also characterized by the term “Five O’Clock Lightning” because somewhere around that time would come a barrage that put an opponent away. The 2015 Yankees should be called “1:30 Lightning” for their penchant for their first-inning outbursts.

They did again in style on Thursday.

Chase Headley stroked a base-clearing double with two out as part of a four-run first inning and Masahiro Tanaka pitched masterfully into the eighth as New York swept reeling Baltimore in front of a paid crowd of 46,875 at Yankee Staduim.

Jacoby Ellsbury added to the onslaught with three hits, four RBIs and finished the day just a triple shy of hitting for the cycle as the Yankees rapped out 13 hits to win their ninth game out of their past 11 to take a commanding 5 1/2 game lead in the American League East.

Tanaka (7-3) capitalized on the 9-1 lead his was given by the bottom of the fifth inning and cruised to victory despite yielding solo home runs to Chris Davis, J.J. Hardy and Manny Machado. Tanaka gave up three runs on just five hits with no walks and seven strikeouts in 7 2/3 innings.

The Yankees, meanwhile, immediately jumped all over right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez (7-6) in the first as Ellsbury singled to left and Brett Gardner and Alex Rodriguez drew walks on 3-2 pitches to load the bases.

After Jimenez looked to be just about out of danger after striking out Mark Teixeira and retiring Carlos Beltran on a shallow outfield fly, Headley laced a three-run double off the center-field wall. Didi Gregorius followed with an RBI single to score Headley.

After Davis crushed a fastball into the right-field bleachers for his second home run in as many at-bats and his 21st of the season to lead off the second inning, Ellsbury delivered a long home run of his own to lead of the bottom of the inning.

The Yankees then proceeded to put the game away for good in the fourth inning after Gregorius and John Ryan Murphy reached on one-out singles. Stephen Drew delivered the knockout blow to Jimenez with a lined single to right to score Gregorius.

Right-hander Tommy Hunter replaced Jimenez and was greeted with a sacrifice fly off the bat of Ellsbury that scored Murphy to make the score 7-1.

Jimenez was charged with all seven runs on eight hits and three walks and two strikeouts in 2 1/3 innings, his shortest start of the season. In his previous outing, Jimenez also surrendered seven runs on seven hits (including three home runs) to the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park last Friday.

The Yankees added a pair of runs off right-hander Bud Norris in the fifth inning on an opposite-field single by Headley and a single off the second-base bag by Murphy. Ellsbury capped his big day with a two-out, two-run double to left to pad the Yankees lead to 9-1.

Tanaka, meanwhile, was dazzling the Orioles with pinpoint command. He yielded just the one run and three hits through 7 1/3 innings until Hardy cracked a solo home run to left and, one out later, Machado laced a shot of his own for his 21st home run of the season.

It was Tanaka’s third consecutive victory in his past three starts and he has not lost a game since the Tigers defeated him 12-4 on June 21 at Yankee Stadium.

The Yankees are now a season-high 53-41 and they are 5 1/2 games ahead of the second-place Toronto Blue Jays in the division. The Orioles dropped to 46-48 and they trail the Yankees by seven games.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Ellsbury was hitting .327 on July 11, one day before the All-Star break. He immediately fell into a 3-for-26 (.115) slide until Thursday’s game. He was 3-for-4 with a single, double, home run, two runs scored and added four RBIs. In order to light the match to their offense, the Yankees need Ellsbury getting on base along with Gardner. They set the table for the hitters that follow them.
  • Headley is one of those players that just by definition is steady. From May 25 through Thursday Headley’s batting average has stayed within the .242 and .259 range. But since July 1, Headley is 17-for-50 (.340). Oddly though, Headley had no home runs and just seven RBIs during the streak. It is really hard to hit that well and have so little to show for it but Headley is hitting .259 with eight homers and 35 RBIs on the season.
  • Forget the three homers Tanaka gave up. The 26-year-old right-hander seems to be in a nice groove over the past month. In his past four starts, Tanaka is 3-0 with a 3.18 ERA and 25 strikeouts in 28 1/3 innings. If there is any doubt he is the ace of this staff he is quickly dispelling it.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

Tanaka pitched exceptional baseball, the team scored nine runs and they swept a very dangerous division rival. There is no reason to complain about anything about Thursday’s effort. It is clear that after two injury-plagued seasons, the Yankees have gotten their swagger back. They look like they will be tough to beat for the A.L. East title.

ON DECK

The Yankees are off to Minnesota to play the Twins in a weekend series at Target Field that starts on Friday.

Right-hander Michael Pineda (9-6, 3.77 ERA) will start the series for the Yankees. Pineda, 26, allowed four runs on six hits and two walks with two strikeouts in six innings in a 4-3 loss to the Seattle Mariners on Saturday.

The Twins will look to former Yankees right-hander Phil Hughes (8-6, 4.15 ERA). Hughes, 29, took a no-decision on Saturday against the Oakland Athletics despite giving up just one run on six hits and a walk with two strikeouts in seven innings.

Game-time will be 8:10 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast by the YES Network.

 

Yankees’ Starters Talented But Health Big Issue

With the opening of the New York Yankees spring training camp in Tampa, FL, we will now look at each position on the team to assess their chances in 2015. After a disappointing 2014 season with a roster riddled with significant injuries the Yankees have reshuffled the deck with a lot of fresh faces to join some old ones. Let’s look at them.

STARTING ROTATION

No. 1 – Masahiro Tanaka, 26 (13-5, 2.77 ERA in 20 starts)

No. 2 – Michael Pineda, 26 (5-5, 1.89 ERA in 13 starts)

No. 3 – CC Sabathia, 34 (3-4, 5.28 ERA in 8 starts)

No. 4 – Nathan Eovaldi, 25 (6-14, 4.37 ERA in 33 starts)

No. 5 – Chris Capuano, 36 (2-3, 4.25 in 12 starts)

The Yankees began the 2014 season with a rotation of Tanaka, Pineda, Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda and Ivan Nova. At one point last season, Kuroda was the only one of the five still pitching.

In fact, the then-39-year-old veteran made 32 starts and was 11-9 with a 3.71 ERA for a team that struggled to finish six games over .500. Unfortunately, after pitching three seasons with the Yankees, Kuroda elected to exit Major League Baseball and go back to his native Japan to finish up his career.

That leaves a 2015 rotation steeped in talent and great possibilities. However, it also is a quintet laden with big question marks.

The Yankees made quite a splash last season with the signing of the Japanese star right-hander Tanaka to a seven-year, $155-million contract on Jan. 23. Tanaka was coming off a dream season in Japan where he was 24-0 with a 1.27 ERA for the Rakuten Golden Eagles in 2013.

The Yankees saw Tanaka as a potential ace and they were hoping that his eight-pitch assortment including a world-class strikeout pitch in his split-finger fastball would translate to the American game.

After a spring training in which he was 2-0 with a 2.14 ERA in five games, Tanaka hit the ground running and never really stopped. On June 17, Tanaka was 11-1 with a sparkling 1.99 ERA.

Ther was talk of a Cy Young Award and a Rookie of the Year Award buzzing around him until . . .

After losing three of his next three starts, Tanaka complained of pain in his valuable right elbow. Because Tanaka came to the United States after logging 1,315 innings since the age of 18 in Japan, he did come to the Yankees with some very inherent risks.

The Yankees discovered he had a partial tear in ulnar collateral ligament and left the choice to Tanaka whether to have surgery to repair it and likely miss two full seasons or rehab the small tear and hope that it healed on its own.

Tanaka chose the latter and came back to make two starts in September. Despite the fact he was shelled for seven runs (five earned) in 1 2/3 innings in his final start, Tanaka and the Yankees were encouraged enough to stay committed on not having Tommy John surgery.

So with two spring bullpen sessions under his belt, Tanaka has assured the Yankees and the media that his elbow is fine and he expects no further problems. To outside observers, however, Tanaka’s elbow is a ticking time bomb that can explode at any moment, especially for a pitcher who throws a splitter with so much torque on his elbow.

But the Yankees are willing to take that chance so that they can have their ace on the mound for 2015.

If he is right and he remains healthy the Yankees will have one of the best pitchers in the major leagues. Tanaka has proven to be the consummate pitcher capable of even changing his game plan if pitches are not working or batters change their approach.

Last season, pitching against the Twins at Target Field, Tanaka noticed that the Twins were laying off his split-finger pitch and it was causing him to get into some deep counts. So Tanaka switched gears and went to his slider, a pitch that he could throw for strikes. Tanaka ended up winning the game.

So Tanaka is far from just a thrower and his cerebral approach along with his stuff make him a very formidable foe for hitters. If the Yankees are to make any noise in the American League East they will need Tanaka at the top of the rotation pitching just as he did in 2014.

If patience is a virtue than the Yankees have it spades when it comes to Pineda.

The 6-foot-7, 290-pound right-hander was obtained in a much ballyhooed deal between the Yankees and Seattle in 2012 that sent the Yankees No. 1 prospect, catcher Jesus Montero, to the Mariners.

However, in his final start of the spring in 2012, Pineda complained of shoulder pain. He ended up undergoing season-ending surgery on the shoulder and he was only was able to make 10 minor-league rehab starts in 2013.

So the Yankees wanted to see what a healthy Pineda could do in 2014. Very quickly they learned he could do quite a lot. In spring training, Pineda was 2-1 with a 1.20 ERA in four games with 16 Ks in 15 innings.

The Yankees could not wait to see what he could do with a full season. However, after going 2-1 with a 1.00 ERA in his first three starts, Pineda decided to tempt fate once too many times by placing a glob of pine tar on his neck in a game against the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park on April 23.

He was ejected from the game in the second inning and he was suspended for 10 days by Major League Baseball. In what only could be called “Pineda Luck,” while preparing for his first start after the suspension, Pineda strained the teres major muscle behind his right shoulder and he was placed on the 60-day disabled list. He would not return to the Yankees until Sept. 5.

In his final five starts, Pineda was 2-2 with an even more sparkling 1.62 ERA. So the Yankees open spring camp thinking they have a second top-drawer starter in Pineda IF ONLY he can stay healthy and off suspension.

It is obvious the talent is there. Pineda exhibits absolutely spotless control: He walked only seven batters in 76 1/3 innings and he only gave up 56 hits. How he lost five games is amazing but very understandable considering how weak the Yankees offense was last season.

With a full season under his belt in 2015, Pineda may take the next step into the elite class of pitchers and he forms a very tough one-two pitching punch with Tanaka.

At this point, the rest of the rotation takes a decided turn to the worse.

Sabathia, the team’s former ace, is coming off two consecutive very bad seasons.

In 2013, Sabathia saw his record slip from 15-6 in 2012 to 14-13 and his ERA exploded from 3.28 to 4.78. After pitching 200-plus innings for six consecutive seasons since 2007, Sabathia discovered he was losing velocity, which negated the effectiveness of his change-up.

He vowed to be better in 2014. He would somehow transition into a finesse pitcher capable of winning on guile instead on pure power as he had throughout his career.

He was 3-1 with 1.29 ERA in five spring starts so the early results looked encouraging. But when the regular season started the whole thing came crashing down on Sabathia.

He was 3-3 with a 5.11 ERA in April. He then made two very poor starts in May and that was all for Sabathia for the rest of the season. Swelling in his right knee forced him to the disabled list and after breaking down in a second rehab start on July 2, Sabathia finally called 2014 quits.

Yankee team doctors discovered that Sabathia had a degenerative condition in his right knee and underwent arthroscopic debridement surgery in July. Doctors also shaved out a bone spur.

Though Sabathia dodged a more invasive and career-threatening microfracture surgery, he will always have some pain in the knee because he has no cartilage between the bones. So Sabathia enters 2015 as one big fat question mark, literally.

Sabathia, claiming that he was too light the past two seasons, elected to come to camp 10 pounds heavier this spring. Sabathia said he expects to pitch this season between 295 and 305 pounds. Last season, he reported weighing 275 pounds.

It would seem to be counterintuitive for a pitcher coming off knee surgery with no cartilage in his knee would add weight. But Dr. Christopher Ahmad, the Yankees’ team physician, cleared him for the weight and manager Joe Girardi said it will not be an issue in camp.

Sabathia vows he wants to make at least 30 starts in 2015 and after his first bullpen session he said he already feels stronger than he has the past two seasons. But the jury on Sabathia remains out.

Just two seasons ago the Yankees provided Sabathia a six-year, $142 million deal. In retrospect, that deal is looking pretty disastrous now because it is doubtful that Sabathia will ever reclaim his status as the team’s ace.

The even larger question is can he adapt and become a the finesse pitcher he thinks he can? The left-hander sounds all the right chords but the results so far have be awful. So no one on the Yankees’ staff has more to prove that Sabathia in 2015.

With Kuroda unavailable the Yankees could have gone in a lot of different directions to replace him in 2015.

After all they did have young pitchers such as David Phelps, Adam Warren and Shane Greene on the roster. In addition, Brandon McCarthy pitched well for the team after he was acquired from the Diamondbacks last July.

However, the Yankees did not opt for Plan A, Plan B, Plan C or Plan D. They dealt Phelps and Greene away in separate trades and they allowed McCarthy to sign a four-year, $48 million contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers.

They are now on Plan E as in Eovaldi, who the Yankees obtained along with infielder/outfielder Garrett Jones for infielder Martin Prado and Phelps.

The right-hander features a sizzling fastball that averages 95.7 mph. However, even with that hard fastball Eovaldi led the National League in hits allowed (223) and he recorded only 142 strikeouts.

The problem according to the Yankees: He needs to develop his secondary pitches  –  his splitter, slider and change-up. The thought is that if Eovaldi does that the sky is the limit for him as a pitcher.

“We’ve talked about developing his repertoire and having him establish confidence in all his pitches in all the counts,” Girardi told reporters. “It’s one thing to have three or four pitches, but it’s another thing to have the confidence to throw them at any time.”

So spring training will be an opportunity for pitching coach Larry Rothschild to refine the diamond in the ruff in Eovaldi and 2015 will be a proving ground to see how the pupil progresses with the lessons he is taught.

Eovaldi did throw 199 2/3 innings last season for a very weak Marlins team. Perhaps some improved offense from the Yankees combined with the refinements Eovaldi is making will translate into success for him in 2015.

The Yankees opted to bring back the veteran left-hander Capuano after he made 12 starts with the team last season.

Capuano was designated for assignment by the Boston Red Sox on July 25 and he was signed to a minor-league contract on July 4 by the Colorado Rockies. After making two minor-league starts, the Yankees acquired him from the Rockies in exchange for cash considerations.

Capuano debuted on July 28 and he finished with a 2-3 mark with a 4.25 ERA.

Having a second left-hander in the rotation is advantageous for the Yankees, particularly at home with so many teams wanting to load up on left-handed batters to exploit the short right-field porch in Yankee Stadium.

The problem is left-handers hit .321 with a .942 OPS against Capuano last season. So he is going to have to work on that this spring.

Capuano has not started 33 games in a season since 2012, But if he can keep his ERA to his career mark of 4.28 the Yankees will be satisfied.

The Yankees also enter 2015 with a bit of a problem. The Yankees have a stretch at the end of April and the beginning of May where they are scheduled to play 30 games in 31 days.

In addition, they have Tanaka, Pineda and Sabathia coming off injury-shortened seasons n 2014. So Giradi and Rothschild are planning to use a six-man rotation this spring and they may extend it into the regular season to ease the strain on their staff through that 30-game stretch in May.

As a result right-hander Warren, 27, looks to be in the best position to fill that role for the Yankees. Warren was 3-6 with a 2.97 ERA in 69 games last season, all of them in relief.

But Warren has been a starter throughout his minor-league career and he is well-suited to slip back into the bullpen when he is no longer needed.

Warren was one of the strengths of the bullpen last season and he seems to have settled into the role Phelps once held.

It would not be the Yankees unless they entered a season with one of their starting  pitchers rehabbing something and that is the case with the 28-year-old right-hander Nova, who ended up on the disabled list after four starts after he suffered a partial tear of his ulnar collateral ligament on his right elbow.

After undergoing Tommy John surgery on April 29 last year, Nova will be unavailable to the Yankees until late May or early June, barring any unforeseen setbacks. However, it is unclear how effective Nova can be.

The Merriam-Webster definition of the word nova is “a star that suddenly increases its light output tremendously and then fades away to its former obscurity in a few months or years.” That could apply to the veteran from the Dominican Republic.

Nova burst onto the scene as a rookie in 2011 with a 16-4 record and a 3.70 ERA. However, in 2012, Nova regressed and finished 12-8 with a 5.02 ERA with 28 home runs allowed in 170 1/3 innings.

He then bounced back from an injury in 2013 to become the Yankees’ best pitcher down the stretch. He ended the season 9-6 with an excellent 3.10 ERA.

So 2014 was supposed to be Nova’s chance to build as a starter. But it ended early after the elbow flared up with a 2-2 record and a 8.27 ERA.

The Yankees are hopeful that Nova will be able to step into the rotation in late May or so. The reality is that it usually takes pitchers some time to find the feel for the pitches and trust that the repaired elbow will hold up.

Nova had developed a devastating curveball that just had batters shaking their heads. He also was able to throw his fastball in the mid-90s with good control. If that Nova is able to contribute to the Yankees in 2015 they may be able to shift Capuano to the bullpen and the rotation will look a lot better.

But Nova remains a big question mark for now.

The Yankees have options beyond these seven starters but there is a huge drop in quality also.

Chase Whitley, 25, made 12 starts for the Yankees last season. After going 3-0 with a 2.56 ERA in his first seven starts he collapsed. He was 0-2 with a 9.00 ERA in his last five starts.

However, he did pitch six innings of shutout baseball on seven hits on July 22 at home against Texas in his final start but still was shifted to the bullpen, where he ended the season.

It is unlikely that Whitley will start once the season opens but he could be a valuable swing man in the bullpen who is available to make a spot start if needed. Whitley has very good numbers as a reliever in the minors and the Yankees feel he is going to be an integral part of their revamped bullpen.

There also is Esmil Rogers, a 29-year-old right-hander signed as a free agent after he was designated for assignment by the Toronto Blue Jays on July 27. He made his debut with the Yankees on Aug. 4 and finished 2-0 with a 4.66 ERA.

Rogers was a failed starter with the Blue Jays before being shifted to the bullpen in 2014 and he seems more suited for that role. But he struggled with the Yankees in September with a 7.84 ERA.

Blessed with immense talent, Rogers just has not been able to put it all together yet at the major-league level and time is beginning to run out.

Another starter candidate is right-hander Bryan Mitchell, 23, who came up from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre in August and pitched in three games, one of them as a starter.

Mitchell was 0-1 with a 2.45 ERA in 11 innings. He was a combined 6-7 with a 4.37 ERA at Double-A Trenton and Scranton.

Yankee insiders compare Mitchell’s build and stuff to that of A.J. Burnett because he possesses a power fastball that reaches the mid-90s and a power curveball that hits at 84 mph. Mitchell has also added a cutter but his change-up needs work.

If Mitchell can harness the command of his pitches he could be something special. He is ranked as the team’s No. 20 prospect.

If the Yankees have one pitcher coming to camp as a non-roster player that I can’t wait to see it is 21-year-old right-hander Luis Severino, the team’s top rated prospect in 2015.

Signed out of the Dominican Republic in July 2012, Severino began 2013 as a complete unknown quantity and finished it as the top right-handed pitching prospect in the system.

Though only 6-feet and 195 pounds, Severino showed uncommon strength to post a 4-2 record with a 2.45 ERA and 53 Ks in 44 innings between two rookie league teams.

He topped that in 2014 by sailing through three different teams, making it all the way to Trenton and he did not look overmatched at any of those stops.

After posting a 3-2 record with a 2.79 ERA at Class-A Charleston (SC) in 14 starts, Severino was promoted to Class-A Tampa. All he did there was go 1-1 with a sparkling 1.31 ERA in four starts.

So the Yankees sent him on to Trenton, where he was 2-2 with a 2.52 ERA in six starts. Over the course of 113 1/3 innings in his three stops, Severino punched out 127 batters.

To say he looks like the real deal is putting it mildly. He was chosen to participate in the SiriusXM All-Star Futures Game and he has become the organization’s No. 1 prospect, period.

Severino’s fastball reaches up to 98 mph and has a natural sink at the low end of his velocity (94 mph). Severino also features a hard slider and a change-up that both have the potential to be big weapons for him.

The Yankees would love to see what he can do this spring but they are going to be deliberate and cautious with his development. But there is no doubt that Severino is on a fast-track to the major leagues and he could be in the rotation as regularly as soon as 2016.

Book it: Severino is a star in the making!

Just behind Severino is left-hander Ian Clarkin, 20, who was selected in the first round (33rd pick) by the Yankees in 2013 First-Year Player Draft.

Clarkin recorded a 4-3 mark with a 3.13 ERA in stops at Charleston and Tampa using his 90-94 mph fastball mixed in with a 12-to-6 curveball and a change-up. The youngster also shows a lot of polish for a prep pitcher and the Yankees hope to have him ready for the majors by 2017.

He is ranked as the team’s fourth best prospect.

The Yankees also have very high hopes for No. 7 prospect Domingo German, 22, another player signed out of the Dominican Republic by the Miami Marlins in 2009.

The 6-foot-2, 175-pound right-hander posted a breakout season in 2014 at Class-A Greensboro, going 9-3 with a 2.48 ERA in 25 starts. He also was selected to pitch in the SiriusXM Futures Game and then the Marlins packaged him with Eovaldi and Jones in the deal for Prado and Phelps.

German excels at command and scouts rave about his touch already on his breaking pitches. He features a power sinking fastball along with a above-average change-up. Right now his slider needs more break but he is developing it.

The Yankees also expect to see him around 2017.

These three gems have Yankee fans very excited and with good reason.

OVERALL POSITION ANALYSIS: AVERAGE

Though I truly believe that Tanaka and Pineda will not only be healthy all season but they will actually be among the best starters in the American League, the other three spots in the rotation have some question marks.

Even after surgery, Sabathia’s right knee could be a recurring problem for him and I fail to see the added weight will help it. But if Sabathia can remain healthy all season, eat innings and keep his ERA in 4.25 area the Yankees could settle for that.

Eovaldi was a real gamble. His arm, no doubt, is a good one. The question is can he finally put it all together to become a winning pitcher? Rothschild has had some success grooming young pitchers and if he gets Eovaldi untracked he should have his salary doubled.

The veteran left-hander Capuano is up there in age and he obviously is a placeholder while Nova rehabs his surgically repaired elbow. The problem with Capuano is can he pitch well enough to keep the Yankees in games.

Years ago the Yankees scoured the scrap heap for Freddy Garcia. Now it is Capuano in the same role. Let’s hope it works out.

The Yankees also have Warren if they need a sixth starter in the early part of the season. Warren has been excellent as a reliever so there is no reason to believe he can’t be successful as a starter.

The Yankees hope to get Nova back and they also have Whitley, Rogers and Mitchell who are capable of starting. Mitchell has the most upside of the bunch because Whitley is more suited to relief and Rogers has been too inconsistent to be considered much of a help at this point.

The future of the Yankees’ starting rotation is looking quite bright with Severino, Clarkin and German coming off sparkling 2014 campaigns. This is one area the team that looks much stronger.

The temptation is for Yankee fans to want Severino on the roster this season. But the Yankees are taking a very careful approach with him and it is going to pay off of them next season.

NEXT: BULLPEN

 

Yanks’ Holiday Fireworks Lead To Sweep Of Twins

GAME 85

YANKEES 9, TWINS 5

When it comes to Minneapolis and Target Field the Yankees would just as soon remain there playing the Twins forever. As far as the Twins’ players are concerned they probably would have volunteered to drive the Yankees to the airport just to make sure they left.

The Yankees’ offense exploded like a bottle rocket on this Fourth of July and David Phelps pitched a sparkling 6 1/3 innings as New York completed a humiliating four-game sweep of Minnesota on Thursday in front of a sellout holiday crowd of 38,260.

Ichiro Suzuki and Travis Hafner each pounded out three hits and Vernon Wells drove in three runs as the Yankees broke out the heavy lumber against rookie right-hander Kyle Gibson, who was making only his second major-league start.

The Yankees arrived in Minneapolis on the heels of a five-game losing streak and they left having outscored the Twins 29-14 in the four-game series.

Suzuki finished the day a homer shy of hitting for the cycle as the Yankees cruised to a commanding 9-1 lead by the top of the sixth inning.

Phelps (6-5), coming off giving up a career-worst nine runs in 2 1/3 innings against the Baltimore Orioles in his last start on June 30, turned the tables on the Twins until he ran out gas in the seventh inning. He entered the seventh having given up only a one-out solo home run to Justin Morneau in the fourth inning.

Meanwhile, the Yankees took little time jumping on Gibson (1-1), the Twins’ No. 1 draft pick in 2009.

Suzuki led off the game with a double down the right-field line and Zoilo Almonte advanced him to third on a lined single to right. Robinson Cano, who entered the day 7-for-11 with three home runs and eight RBIs in the series, drove a sacrifice fly to the warning track in left-field to score Suzuki.

Hafner extended the inning by blooping an opposite-field double to left and Wells, making a rare start, followed with a two-run single that scored Almonte and Hafner.

The Yankees added a pair of runs in the third inning after Gibson opened the frame by hitting Hafner with a pitch and then uncorked a wild pitch that allowed Hafner to rumble into second. Wells then looped a fly ball that eluded left-fielder Oswaldo Arcia for an RBI double.

Newly acquired shortstop Luis Cruz then delivered his first hit as a Yankee, an RBI single to left that scored Wells.

The Yankees put the game away against Gibson and left-hander Brian Duensing in the sixth with an RBI single by Alberto Gonzalez, a two-run triple by Suzuki and an RBI groundout off the bat of Almonte.

Phelps wobbled in the seventh when Chris Parmelee and Aaron Hicks opened the frame with a pair of singles. One out later, Pedro Florimon chased Phelps with an RBI single.

Right-hander Joba Chamberlain replaced Phelps and he was greeted with an RBI single from Brian Dozier. Boone Logan came in to face Joe Mauer and surrendered a sacrifice fly to the Twins catcher.

The Twins then jumped on Logan in the eighth when Morneau blasted his second home run of the game and his sixth of the season.

Trevor Plouffe then singled and Parmelee drew a walk before manager Joe Girardi yanked Logan in favor of right-hander Shawn Kelley, who retired the next three hitters  –  two of them via strikeouts  –  to end the threat.

David Robertson pitched a perfect ninth as the Yankees defeated the Twins for the seventh time in their past eight meetings and they now have won nine of their past 11 games at Target Field.

The victory improved the Yankees’ season ledger to 46-39 and they remain six games behind the first-place Boston Red Sox in third place in the American League East. The Twins, who have now lost five straight games, fell to 36-46.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Suzuki, who started in center-field and hit leadoff in place of Brett Gardner, took advantage of it by going 3-for-5 with two runs scored and two RBIs. Suzuki was hitting an anemic .238 on May 15. Since then he is 45-for-152 (.296). In addition, Suzuki was 7-for-15 (.457) in the four-game series against the Twins. He has raised his season average to .280.
  • Hafner is finally showing signs of coming around with the bat  –  finally. He was 3-for-4 with two doubles and three runs scored. The key for Hafner is that he has stopped trying to pull everything and he collected two opposite-field doubles and a lined single to center on Thursday. Hafner is 9-for-19 (.316) in his past five starts and has raised his season average back to .229.
  • Phelps yielded four runs on eight hits, he did not walk anyone and he fanned five in 6 1/3 innings. However, he pitched better than the final line indicates. Phelps simply ran out of steam having thrown 91 pitches over the first six innings. In addition, Chamberlain and Logan did not help matters by allowing two more inherited runners to score in the seventh inning.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

I was not happy with Chamberlain or Logan for the way they almost let the Twins back into the game. But winning four straight is the important thing. Consider this also: The Yankees scored nine runs and rapped out 13 hits and Cano ended the day 0-for-4 with a strikeout despite driving in his ninth run of the series on a sac fly in the first.

BOMBER BANTER

You got to laugh just to keep yourself from crying about the Yankees and their injuries this season. The latest bad news comes about catcher Francisco Cervelli. The veteran backstop will have to be shut down for at least two weeks and his expected return has been moved back to August due to a stress reaction in his right elbow. Cervelli had been catching simulated games and taking batting practice at the Yankees’ complex in Tampa, FL, when he felt pain in the elbow. An MRI on Wednesday revealed the stress reaction. Cervelli has played in just 17 games this season, batting .269 with three homers and eight RBIs.  . . .  Shortstop Eduardo Nunez has moved up to Double-A Trenton as part of his minor-league rehab assignment and he could be activated before the All-Star break. Nunez has been on the disabled list since May 5 with a strained right oblique. Nunez has played in just 27 games this season, hitting .200 with no homers and four RBIs.  . . .  Derek Jeter told reporters on Thursday that he feels the he is close to being cleared to begin a minor-league rehab assignment. Jeter has not played this season due to complications from surgery on his left ankle.

ON DECK

The Yankees return home hoping to deal a little payback to Baltimore in a three-game weekend series that begins on Friday.

Right-hander Ivan Nova (2-2, 4.63 ERA) will start in place of injured right-hander Hiroki Kuroda. Nunez last pitched in relief against the Orioles in Baltimore, giving up two runs on six hits in 5 2/3 innings. Nova is 3-2 with a 5.43 ERA lifetime against the O’s.

Nova will be opposed by right-hander Miguel Gonzalez (6-3, 3.77 ERA). Gonzalez was charged with three runs on nine hits in 6 2/3 innings at home against the Cleveland Indians on June 29. He is 2-1 with a 2.70 ERA against the Yankees.

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

 

CC Notches His 200th As Yankees Frustrate Twins

GAME 84

YANKEES 3, TWINS 2

It came in his 401st career start and it came in his second attempt at it, but CC Sabathia was able to join a very elite club of major-league pitchers on Wednesday.

Red-hot Robinson Cano keyed the offense with a huge two-run double in the sixth inning and Sabathia struck out nine batters in seven strong innings to earn his 200th major-league victory as he and New York continued their unbelievable dominance over Minnesota in front of a sellout crowd of 38,457 at Target Field.

Sabathia (9-6) became the 27th pitcher in major-league baseball history to win his 200th game before his 33rd birthday and only the eighth pitcher to do so after 1961.

The veteran left-hander held the Twins to only two runs on seven hits and three walks to run his record against the Twins to 11-0 in his last 12 starts  –  which includes the playoffs  –  dating back to Aug. 3, 2007.

The Yankees, meanwhile, have now won three straight against the Twins after they had dropped their previous five games.

Cano entered the evening 12-for-21 (.571) with four homers and eight RBIs, three of those home runs coming against the Twins. He struck again against rookie right-hander P.J. Walters after Walters had shut out the Yankees on only one hit and two walks in the first five innings.

With the Twins ahead 2-0, Brett Gardner drew a leadoff walk and Ichiro Suzuki followed by slashing a line drive that struck the wall down the right-field line just inside the foul line for a double.

Twins manager Ron Gardenhire elected to have Walters pitch to Cano with a base open and Cano made both Gardenhire and Walters pay for it when he lashed a two-run double to right-center.

Travis Hafner chased Walters (2-5) when he slapped an opposite field single to left to advance Cano to third.

One out later, Lyle Overbay plated Cano with the go-ahead by lining a sacrifice fly to center-field off left-hander Caleb Thielbar.

Walters was charged with three runs on four hits and three walks while he fanned three in five-plus innings of work.

The Twins took a 1-0 lead off Sabathia in the third inning when Brian Dozier drew a leadoff walk and Joe Mauer followed with an RBI double to the wall in left-center.

The Twins, however, missed a golden opportunity to add to their 1-0 lead in the inning when newly signed Yankee shortstop Luis Cruz airmailed a routine grounder off the bat of Ryan Doumit over Overbay’s head for an error that advanced Mauer to third with no outs.

Sabathia then struck out Justin Morneau swinging, retired Trevor Plouffe on a fly ball to shallow right and fanned Oswaldo Arcia swinging to end the threat.

The Twins did add a run with two out in the fifth inning when Plouffe connected off Sabathia for his eighth homer of the season to straightaway center.

But for the third consecutive evening the Yankees were able to come from behind to take the lead and hold it against the Twins.

David Robertson pitched a scoreless eighth inning and Mariano Rivera shut out the Twins in the ninth for his 28th save in 29 chances this season. It was the 636th career save for the 41-year-old right-hander and 35 of them have come against the Twins.

With the victory the Yankees improved their season record to 45-39 and they remain six games behind the first-place Boston Red Sox in the American League East. But they edged a half-game ahead of the Tampa Bay Rays in third place in the division. The Twins, who have now lost four in a row, are 36-45.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • It was nice to see Sabathia get his 200th victory after he threw five no-hit innings against the Baltimore Orioles on Saturday only to end up losing the game 4-3. Despite the nine strikeouts, Sabathia did have some command issues that raised his pitch count in the early innings. He ended up throwing a season-high 121 pitches.
  • Cano finished the evening 2-for-3 with a walk, a run scored and two RBIs. In his past six games, Cano is 14-for-24 (.584) with four home runs and 10 RBIs. It is odd that the Twins elected to pitch to him with first base open and no outs in the sixth, but Cano is beginning to deliver the big hit. In fact, when he lined out to center in the eighth it took a diving catch by Aaron Hicks to get him out.
  • Rivera is continuing his farewell tour of American League cities and he is absolutely rolling in his final season. Rivera is 1-1 with 28 saves with an amazing 1.44 ERA. At 43 years of age Rivera is a lock to be invited to his 13th All-Star Game. The odd thing is they would not be inviting him out of sentiment. Rivera honestly is STILL among the elite closers in baseball. Amazing!

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • The Yankee offense was poor on Wednesday. They made the soft-tossing rookie Walters look like Greg Maddux for the first five innings. The No. 5 through No. 9 spots in the order were a combined 0-for-15 with six strikeouts. It was just lucky they strung together three of their four hits in the sixth inning to take the lead.
  • Cruz, who was recently released by the Los Angeles Dodgers, was signed as a free agent earlier in the day and ended up starting at shortstop for the Yankees. He was 0-for-3 and committed a throwing error that could have been costly if Sabathia had not pitched his way out of the jam. But Cruz did drive a ball to deep left in the fifth that Arcia grabbed at the wall to rob him of at least a double.
  • Chris Stewart ‘s problems at the plate continue. He was 0-for-4 and now has not gotten a hit in his past 14 at-bats. His season average continues to plummet. His 0-for-4 evening dropped his average to .238. It looks as if the career .223 hitter is falling back to his norm.

BOMBER BANTER

The Yankees signed Cruz because they placed infielder Jayson Nix on the 15-day disabled list as of July 2 with a Grade 2 strain of his right hamstring. Nix sustained the injury running out a double in Monday’s game against the Twins. Crus, 29, was released by the Dodgers after hitting .127 in 45 games. He was designated for assignment on June 28 and opted to become a free agent rather than accept an offer to play for the Dodgers’ Triple-A affiliate. Cruz, a right-hand hitter, can play both shortstop and third base. Cruz becomes the fifth player to play shortstop for the Yankees this season in place of Derek Jeter. Eduardo Nunez, Nix, Reid Brignac and Alberto Gonzalez have also played the position this season.

ON DECK

The Yankees can actually sweep the Twins in the four-game series with a victory on Thursday.

Right-hander David Phelps (5-5, 4.95 ERA) will take the mound for the Yankees. Phelps was treated like a piñata by the Orioles on Sunday. He gave up a career-high nine runs in 2 1/3 innings. He has never faced the Twins.

The Twins will counter with rookie right-hander Kyle Gibson (1-0, 3.00 ERA). Gibson gave up two runs on eight hits in six innings in his major-league debut on Saturday against the Kansas City Royals. Gibson will get his first look at the Yankees.

Game-time will be at 2:10 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast nationally by the MLB Network and locally by the YES Network.