BRAVES 2, YANKEES 1
TAMPA – To the Yankees and their fans, the tradition and history of the team is almost as important than the future direction of the franchise. On Saturday, the current legends of the team and the promise of the future were on proud display on Saturday at George M. Steinbrenner Field.
Future Hall of Fame closer Mariano Rivera, fresh from a morning news conference to announce that 2013 will be his final season in pinstripes, and team captain Derek Jeter, rehabbing from offseason surgery to his left ankle, both made triumphant spring training debuts.
As a metaphor for the future, 23-year-old right-hander Jose Ramirez threw four shutout innings against the Braves, yielding just one hit and striking out four batters.
However, as a reminder of the team’s present, the Yankees’ offense could not match its excellent pitching and they fell to Atlanta for their fourth consecutive spring training defeat.
Rivera, 43, spurred the crowd of 10,973 to its feet as he trotted to the mound in the fifth inning serenaded by his personal anthem “Enter Sandman.”
It did not take the master long to establish his signature cutter as Dan Uggla hit a weak infield popup and Juan Francisco and Chris Johnson were caught looking in only 15 pitches. The gathered throng shot to its feet again as one of their heroes strode off the mound and tipped his cap just before he entered the dugout.
Their other “Golden Boy,” Jeter, wasted no time after his standing ovation as he stepped into the batter’s box in the first inning. He sent the initial offering from left-hander Mike Minor between the shortstop Tyler Pastornicky and the third baseman Francisco in left-field. Though Jeter’s gait appeared to be somewhat labored. It did not make a difference to the fans who cheered the captain they love so dearly.
In a spring marked by injury after injury, disappointment and mounting losses, the fans were just happy to have No. 2 and No. 42 back on the field.
Minor matched Ramirez with four shutout innings of his own. He gave up three hits and two walks.
The Braves scored their first run in the seventh inning on a one-out triple by Pastornicky and a two-out bloop RBI single to center by Uggla. They added an insurance run in the ninth on a Jordan Schaffer double and Schaffer later scored on a sac fly off the bat of Jordan Parraz.
That run proved significant because the Yankees ended a 19-inning spring scoring drought against the Braves that dates back to the team’s spring opener on Feb. 23. Thomas Neal scored Bobby Wilson on a groundout off reliever Alex Wood.
Anthony Vavaro (1-0) pitched a perfect sixth inning to get credit for the victory. Wood pitched two innings to earn his second spring save. Left-hander Francisco Rondon took the loss for the Yankees.
The punchless Yankees are now 3-11 this spring. The Braves improved to 8-8.
- Of all the young pitchers, it’s Ramirez, 23, who’s looked the best. He’s gotten two starts and has pitched a total of shutout nine innings allowing four hits with one walk and five strikeouts. “He’s been great,” manager Joe Girardi said. “The kid has thrown the ball really well. He’s throwing strikes. He’s got an outstanding changeup. His slider is a work in progress. He spots his fastball with velocity. He’s had an outstanding spring.”
- Ichiro Suzuki was 2-for-3 and a stolen base on Saturday. He is hitting .450 for the spring. It is just too bad that nobody in the No. 3, No. 4 or No. 5 spots can get enough going at the plate to score him. I bet Girardi is counting the days until mid-May when Curtis Granderson and Mark Teixeira are expected back. Until then it is not much of an offense. It is just plain offensive is what it is.
- Ronnier Mustelier may be built like a tank but he proved on Saturday that he can run when he stroked a two-out triple to right-center in the seventh. Mustelier, 28, is hitting a robust .375 this spring and Girardi even tried him out at third base on Saturday. Mustelier was moved to the outfield because he seems to be better there. But if he could play third well enough the Yankees might keep him because of his potent bat.
- Surprise! The Yankees were 0-for-11 with runners in scoring position on Saturday. It is apparent that the team’s downfall in the American League Championship Series against the Detroit Tigers has not been rectified. They are going to have to do better when the season starts.
- Matt Diaz and Juan Rivera, two players who are likely going to make the team and are being counted upon in the absence of Granderson and Teixeira, were a combined 0-for-6 on Saturday. Rivera is hitting a respectable .273 but Diaz is struggling, hitting just .222.
- Left-handed designated hitter Travis Hafner was 0-for- 2 and he’s hitting .167. It may not yet be time to panic but you may want to keep the Xanax handy.
Right-handers Phil Hughes, David Robertson and David Aardsma threw bullpen sessions on Saturday and all three reported feeling fine afterward. “All good news,” Girardi said. “Maybe the worm has turned.” . . . After the game right-handers Tom Kahnle and Kelvin Perez were optioned to minor-league camp.
The Yankees hope to seek a better result on Sunday on the road against the Toronto Blue Jays in Dunedin, FL.
Right-hander David Phelps will make his fourth start of the spring for the Yankees. He will be opposed by J.A. Happ.
Game-time will be at 1:05 EDT and the game will be telecast on tape delay by the MLB Network at 3 a.m. on Monday.
With the announcement of the signing of designated hitter/first baseman Travis Hafner to a one-year contract on Feb. 1, the New York Yankees are basically finished with their roster moves prior to the opening of spring training camp in Tampa, FL.
Hafner, 35, is a potential replacement for the loss of Raul Ibanez, who opted to sign with the Seattle Mariners this offseason.
Hafner hit .228 with 12 home runs and 34 RBIs in 64 games with the Cleveland Indians last season.
Though Hafner has played first base in his career, he has not played in the field since the 2007 season. So it appears he primarily will be the team’s left-hand DH and will play first sparingly, if at all.
To make room on the 40-man roster, the Yankees designated fellow former Indians first baseman/outfielder Russ Canzler for assignment. If Canzler is not picked up by another team he could be reclaimed and invited to spring training with the Yankees.
In addition to Hafner, the Yankees added to their spring roster by inviting a total of 43 players to spring training.
Among those is left-hand hitting first baseman Dan Johnson, who most recently played for the Tampa Bay Rays and Chicago White Sox, and outfielders Matt Diaz and Juan Rivera.
Diaz, 34, hit .222 with two home runs and 13 RBIs in 51 games for the Atlanta Braves last season. The right-hand hitting Diaz had his season cut short by a right thumb injury that required surgery in August.
Diaz is a career .291 hitter and he has an excellent chance to make the team as a backup corner outfielder and designated hitter.
Rivera, also 34, originally came out of the Yankees minor-league system and played for the team in portions of the 2002 and 2003 seasons before being dealt to the Montreal Expos in 2004.
Rivera hit .244 with nine home runs and 47 RBIs in 109 games for the Los Angeles Dodgers last season. He is a career .274 hitter.
Rivera is also a corner outfielder and he likely will compete with Diaz for a roster spot.
Johnson, 33, has an excellent chance to make the roster as a replacement for Eric Chavez, who signed in the offseason with the Arizona Diamondbacks. Johnson is a left-handed hitter who can play first and third base and as a corner outfielder.
He hit .364 with three home runs and six RBIs in late season call-up with the White Sox. But at Triple-A Charlotte, Johnson hit .267 with 28 home runs and 85 RBIs in 137 games before being recalled in September.
With Hafner and Johnson both having good shots at making the team and Diaz and Rivera competing for a backup outfield and right-hand DH spot, the other battles for bench spots will come down to backup catcher and a utility infield spot.
The Yankees lost starting catcher Russell Martin to the Pittsburgh Pirates as a free agent so the starting catcher spot will come down to a battle between Francisco Cervelli, 26, and Chris Stewart, 30. The loser of the battle likely will be the team’s backup.
The Yankees also invited former Los Angeles Angels catcher Bobby Wilson, 29, to camp as a non-roster invitee. However, Wilson likely will be sent to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre just in case Cervelli or Stewart are injured and he will back up rookie Austin Romine, 24, who is coming off a lower-back injury.
The backup infield spot will be a rematch of last season’s battle between speedy Eduardo Nunez, 25, and steady Jayson Nix, 30.
Nunez is a career .272 hitter with 38 steals in 46 attempts. He is the team’s second-best base-stealer behind Brett Gardner and is perhaps the best athlete on the team.
However, his glovework the past two seasons has been so bad the Yankees want him to primarily play shortstop and second base, which gives Nix a huge edge despite the fact he arrives in camp as a non-roster player.
Nix hit .243 with four home runs and 18 RBIs in 74 games with the Yankees last season. He is able to play second, third, shortstop and the corner outfield spots.
Nunez possibly could make the team as a right-hand DH and he could play a lot of shortstop this season in place of 38-year-old Derek Jeter, who is recovering from a fractured left ankle he sustained in Game 1 of the American League Championship Series.
Another option for Nunez is that he could be traded this spring if general manager Brian Cashman feels the need to add a player before the season begins.
Along with Johnson, Wilson, Nix, Diaz and Rivera, the Yankees invited the following players to camp:
CATCHERS: Francisco Arcia, Kyle Higashioka, J.R. Murphy, Gary Sanchez.
INFIELDERS: Gregory Bird, Cito Culver, Walter Ibarra, Addison Maruszak, Luke Murton, Jose Pirela, Kyle Roller, Gil Velazquez.
OUTFIELDERS: Abraham Almonte, Tyler Austin, Adonis Garcia, Slade Heathcott, Ronnier Musteller, Thomas Neal, Rob Segedin.
PITCHERS: Corey Black, Juan Cedeno, Preston Claiborne, Matt Daley, Nick Goody, Shane Greene, David Herndon, Tom Kahnle, Jim Miller, Bryan Mitchell, Mark Montgomery, Zach Nuding, Mikey O’Brien, Kelvin Perez, Brandon Pinder, Ryan Pope, Josh Spence, Matt Tracy, Chase Whitley.