Tagged: Vernon Wells

Astros Flip Script To Take Opener Over Yankees

CC Sabathia continued his fine work from spring training with six strong innings and Derek Jeter and Mark Teixeira led a newly retooled Yankee offense as the New York downed Houston in their season opener at Minute Maid Park in Houston.

Oops!

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GAME 1

ASTROS 6, YANKEES 2

Somehow the Astros did not get the memo on how Opening Day was supposed to go.

The Astros scored six runs in the first two innings off CC Sabathia, including home runs by Jesus Guzman and L.J. Hoes, as Houston rolled to an Opening Day victory over New York on Tuesday in front of a paid crowd of 42,117 at Minute Maid Park.

Sabathia (0-1) was tagged for four runs in the first and two more in the second before he settled in and pitched four scoreless innings to save the bullpen. Meanwhile, Astros starter Scott Feldman (1-0) held the Yankees in check by using a series of slow-pitch softball speed pitches.

Feldman held the powerful Yankee lineup to no runs on two hits and two walks in 6 2/3 innings. The 31-year-old right-hander entered the contest with a career record of 51-56 with a 4.59.

The Yankees did not get their first hit off Feldman until Carlos Beltran slapped a one-out single to left in the fourth inning. Mark Teixeira looped a one-out single to right in the seventh for the team’s only other hit off Feldman.

The Astros did not waste any time against Sabathia when Dexter Fowler led off the first with a double to deep center. He moved to third on a flyout and scored on an RBI single by Jose Altuve. After a stolen base and a wild pitch advanced him to third, Altuve scored when Teixeira’s throw to home on a grounder off the bat of Jason Castro was thrown wide past McCann.

Guzman lined the first offering from Sabathia deep into the left-field bleachers to make the score 4-0. Guzman entered the game with only 23 career homers over the past 2 1/2 seasons.

Hoes opened the second inning with a solo blast of his own. Hoes entered the contest with only one previous major-league homer in 49 games.

The Astros capped the scoring in the second when Fowler laced another double with one out. Altuve later added a two-out single to score Fowler.

The Yankees had two chances to score against Feldman. In the fourth, Beltran singled with one out and Teixeira drew a two-out walk. However, Alfonso Soriano struck out to end the threat.

In the seventh, Teixeira’s one-out single was followed by a pair of two-out walks to Brett Gardner and Brian Roberts to load the bases.

Astros manager Bo Porter replaced Feldman with left-hander Kevin Chapman and he induced Kelly Johnson into a force out to leave the bases loaded.

The Yankees did finally break through in the eighth inning when Chapman opened the frame by walking Jacoby Ellsbury. Jeter then greeted right-hander Chad Qualls with a single to right.

Beltran advanced Ellsbury and Jeter with a groundout and Brian McCann and Teixeira followed with RBI singles.

However, Qualls ended the rally by getting Soriano to hit into an inning-ending double play.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Two big concerns the Yankees had opening the season was how Jeter and Teixeira would fare after both players, who missed most of the 2013 season with injuries, struggled to hit this spring. But Jeter was 1-for-3 with a walk and a run scored and Teixeira was 2-for-3 with a walk and an RBI.
  • Give both McCann and Teixeira a lot of credit for the their RBI singles. Both decided to hit to the opposite field with shifts on against them and a ground-ball pitcher on the mound in Qualls. If you try to pull outside pitches you end up grounding into the shift. Both recognized that and hit to the opposite field.
  • Both Dellin Betances and Vidal Nuno pitched an inning of relief and both were impressive. Betances struck out two in a perfect inning in the seventh and Nuno struck out the side in the eighth. The Yankees are hoping that Betances, 26, and Nuno, 26, will contribute a lot to a completely retooled bullpen that is missing closer Mariano Rivera.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • The reality is that Sabathia was NOT defeated by his reduced velocity. Sabathia was beaten because he missed location with his pitches. When he was up in the strike zone he got hammered. When he got the ball down he was successful in the final four innings. Sabathia was making his sixth consecutive Opening Day start for the Yankees and the 11th of his career. He is the team’s ace out of courtesy and you can actually make a case that he is the weakest of the Yankees five starters. Once Yankees fans accept that fact they may just be able to accept Sabathia for what he is at age 33.
  • Soriano can be a maddening player. When he is red hot you can’t get him out. When he is cold he can kill your offense. He killed the offense pretty well on Tuesday by going 0-for-4 with two strikeouts and a inning-ending double play. Soriano stranded a team-high five runners. Ouch!
  • Though the Yankees were charged with one error they actually were extremely sloppy in the field in this game. McCann overthrew third base trying to nab Altuve. Teixeira’s throw home to get Altuve was to the first-base side of home plate and skipped past McCann. They just did not look sharp in the field with the exception of some fine plays at third by Johnson.

BOMBER BANTER

Before the game the Yankees purchased the contract of infielder Yangervis Solarte from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and designated infielder Eduardo Nunez for assignment. The team will have 10 days to trade, release or outright Nunez to the minor leagues. Nunez, 26, was once viewed as the heir apparent to Jeter at shortstop but he was outplayed this spring by Solarte, 26, and Dean Anna, 27.  . . .  The Yankees Opening Day lineup had only one holdover from Opening Day in 2013 and that was Gardner. Last season, both Jeter and Teixeira were on the disabled list and 2013 starters Ichiro Suzuki and Francisco Cervelli were on the bench on Tuesday. The 2013 lineup also included Vernon Wells, Kevin Youkilis, Ben Francisco, Jayson Nix and Nunez.  . . .  The Astros plan to honor Jeter with a special ceremony on Wednesday with former teammates Andy Pettitte and Roger Clemens on hand. Jeter announced just before spring training began that this will be his final season.

ON DECK

The Yankees will have to recover from their loss as they play the second game of a three-game seres with the Astros.

Right-hander Hiroki Kuroda (11-13, 3.31 ERA in 2013) will make his first start of the season. He was 1-0 with a 4.76 ERA this spring.

He will opposed by right-hander Jarred Cosart, who was 1-1 with a 1.95 ERA in 10 starts last season. He was 2-1 with a 4.50 ERA this spring.

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

 

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Yankees Boast Outfield With Power, Speed Mix

For the Yankees, 2013 was pretty much a lost season and the biggest weakness on the team was in the outfield.

The projected outfield after the Yankees let right-fielder Nick Swisher sign a free-agent contract with the Cleveland Indians included Ichiro Suzuki, Curtis Granderson and Brett Gardner.

Unfortunately for the Yankees, only Gardner had a productive season.

Granderson, 32, was struck in the right arm on a pitch from Toronto Blue Jays left-hander Jay Happ in his first at-bat of spring training and he missed the first month and a half of the season.

He returned on May 14 and played in just eight games before suffering a fractured left knuckle on May 25 after being hit by a pitch by Tampa Bay Rays left-hander Cesar Ramos. He did not return until Aug. 2.

Granderson ended up his final season of a four-year contract with just seven home runs and 15 RBIs and a .229 batting average in 61 games. The Yankees opted not to make an offer to the outfielder and he signed with the crosstown New York Mets for 2014 season.

The Yankees, devoid of power they lost through free agency before the 2013 season, missed out on Granderson’s power that saw him slug a major-league best 84 home runs in the previous two seasons. But it is pretty safe to say that Granderson will not be hitting 40 home runs in spacious Citi Field and the Yankees will not miss the 364 strikeouts he compiled in the two seasons he hit the 84 home runs.

Granderson’s strikeout totals rose as his batting average dropped and the front office doubted his ability to play center-field by installing Gardner there in 2013.

Suzuki, 40, on the other hand, was perfectly healthy throughout the 2013 season. However, as the season wore on, Suzuki’s ability to get on base waned to the point that he ended up being benched for most of the final month of the season.

He hit a career-low .262 with seven homers and 35 RBIs and 20 stolen bases, which also was a career low. Although Suzuki is in the second year of a two-year contract he signed with the Yankees, his spot on the roster is now tenuous at best. The Yankees package him in a trade before spring training starts.

But it is safe to say that Suzuki’s days as a everyday player with the Yankees have come to an end.

On July 19, Suzuki was helping a team that was ravaged by injury, hitting a respectable .283. From that point on the former American League Most Valuable Player and perennial All-Star hit .198. Father Time looks have claimed what little magic was left in Suzuki’s bat.

That is a shame.

Gardner, 30, ended up coming off an injury-plagued 2012 season to have his best season in the majors. He hit .273 with eight homers and 52 RBIs and stole 24 bases for a team that finished out of the playoffs for only the second time in 18 seasons.

He also played Gold Glove-quality defense in center-field.

But, like many of his teammates, Gardner succumbed to a strained left oblique on Sept. 12 and he missed the rest of the season. Before spring training in 2014, Gardner looks to be a player without a position because of the Yankees’ decision to trade for left-fielder Alfonso Soriano in the middle of the 2013 season and the free-agent signings of center-fielder Jacoby Ellsbury and right-fielder Carlos Beltran.

Yankee general manager Brian Cashman and team president Randy Levine made it clear at the winter meetings that the team was not looking to trade Gardner. Levine said, the team “absolutely had no intention” trading the speedy outfielder.

But because the team has also said they will not carry a permanent designated hitter, Soriano looks to be the team’s left-fielder, leaving Gardner relegated to backup status. That would not seem to make much sense. However, the Yankees have had to make a lot of shifts to the outfield this offseason.

On Jan. 10, the Yankees designated for assignment veteran outfielder Vernon Wells, who was acquired in a late 2013 spring training trade with the Los Angeles Angels to replace the injured Granderson.

Wells, 35, looked like a godsend on May 15 when had 10 home runs, 23 RBIs and was batting .301. But the league caught up to Wells’ aggressive approach at the plate and he ended up with just two home runs and 27 RBIs and hit only .145 the rest of the season.

Like Suzuki, Wells ended up being benched most of the final month of the season. His future with the Yankees was in serious doubt and the Yankees have opted to cut him loose now so that he might be able to sign with another team.

Unlike Wells, Soriano, 38, was a true revelation when he donned the pinstripes on July 26 for the first time since 2003.

Soriano was hitting .254 with 17 home runs and 51 RBIs with the Chicago Cubs when he was acquired. From that time on, Soriano hit .256 with 17 home runs and and 50 RBIs in only 58 games with the Yankees.

His impact was almost immediate for a team missing Granderson, Mark Teixeira, Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez. Soriano became the team’s cleanup hitter and he along with Robinson Cano gave the team a one-two punch the lineup had not had all season long.

On top of that, Soriano showed the Yankees he had improved as an outfielder. He committed only one error in the outfield for the Yankees and he made some pretty sparkling plays in the field for his old team. So enters 2014 as the team’s starting left-fielder.

The Yankees upgraded their outfield nicely by signing Ellsbury, 30, to a shockingly rich seven-year, $153 million contract that prompted Cano to pitch a temper tantrum and storm off to the Seattle Mariners.

Ellsbury is what the Yankees had hoped Gardner would be by this stage: A hitter who could get on base a lot and score a lot of runs by being daring and disruptive on the bases.

In 2013, Ellsbury hit .298 with nine homers and 35 RBIs while leading the American League with 52 stolen bases. Ellsbury is also an excellent defender, having won a Gold Glove and a Silver Slugger award in 2011 when he hit .321 with 32 home runs and 105 RBIs.

Ellsbury has compiled 241 career stolen bases and has a career success rate of 84 percent. Gardner, in contrast, has 161 bags with a 81 percent success rate. The Yankees envision both being in the lineup and wreaking havoc on the basepaths. However, in order to do that they would have to find a spot for Gardner to play.

The Yankees determined pretty early that with Swisher having left last season and Suzuki on his last days as a player they needed to upgrade right-field and they did that by signing Beltran to a three-year, $45 million contract on Dec. 19.

Beltran, 36, hit .296 with 24 home runs and 84 RBIs with the National League champion St. Louis Cardinals in 2013. He also is a switch-hitter with a career average of .283 and 358 home runs and 1,327 RBIs. With Cano missing from the middle of the Yankees’ lineup Beltran will provide a powerful bat to replace him in 2014.

The trio of Beltran, Soriano and Teixeira could easily combine to hit 100 home runs for the Yankees in 2014, which would address one of their biggest shortcomings last season.

Though Beltran did win three Gold Glove awards from 2006 through 2008 with the New York Mets, knee injuries have cut down his ability to play center-field with the skill he used display. However, he is no slouch in right-field and he has an above-average arm.

So the Yankees’ quintet of Gardner, Ellsbury, Soriano, Beltran and Suzuki provide a nice mix of power and speed. They also provide superb defense.

The signings of Ellsbury and Beltran and the acquisition of Soriano are an admission that is painful for Cashman and the Yankee front office that the team’s minor-league outfield prospects are not progressing at a pace they would have wanted.

The Yankees entered 2013 with a handful of promising outfield prospects. But not many have stepped up and most were disappointments last season.

The team’s No. 2 prospect Mason Williams suffered a shoulder injury that cut short his season and he ended up hitting a combined .245 with four home runs and 28 RBIs with 15 stolen bases in 117 games between High-A Tampa and Double-A Trenton.

The 22-year-old speedster has the ability to become a smaller version of Bernie Williams with line-drive power, speed and a very good-fielding center-fielder. But he has to shake off the injuries that sidetracked him and accelerate his development in 2014.

The team’s No. 3 prospect, Tyler Austin, is also 22 and he also suffered some injury issues in 2013. A wrist injury cut his season short and he left the Arizona Fall League when it recurred.

Austin hit a combined .257 with six home runs and 40 RBIs in 83 games with Trenton. Austin is a converted infielder who has the ability to hit for average (He hit a combined .354 in 2011.). But it does not appear he will hit for a lot of power as you might expect from an outfielder.

He has the ability to be an above average fielding right-fielder and the Yankees hope he shows some real progress as a hitter in 2014.

The No. 7 prospect, 2009 top draft pick Slade Heathcott, has been a victim of his all-out style that periodically kept him off the field up until 2013.

Now he is starting to put it all together and he hit .261 with eight homers and 49 RBIs with 15 steals in 103 games at Trenton last season. Heathcott, 23, has a line-drive bat that could develop into power and is way above-average fielder with a plus arm.

The Yankees just hope he can remain healthy enough to progress to the majors.

The No. 6 prospect actually played in the majors last season due to the injuries the team sustained. Zoilo Almonte, 24, was actually rushed to the majors despite the fact he did not spend a full season above the Double-A level.

In 68 games at Triple-A Sranton/Wilkes-Barre, Almonte hit .297 with six home runs and 36 RBIs. He made his major-league debut on June 19 and he ended up hitting .236 with one home run and nine RBIs in 34 games with the Yankees.

Like most of the Yankees, he ended up on the 15-day disabled list on July 20 with a left ankle sprain. He was not activated until Sept. 9 and played sparingly the rest of the season. But the Yankees do believe he could turn into a solid run-producing outfielder.

Almonte is not a speedster and he will not win any Gold Gloves with his defense. But his bat could make him a solid starter or a real good fourth outfielder. The Yankees like the fact he is switch-hitter and they would like to see what he can do with a full season at Triple A.

His chances of making the roster are slim unless the Yankees choose to deal away Gardner or Suzuki.

Almonte’s Scranton teammate, Melky Mesa, also made his major-league debut with the Yankees last season. Mesa, batted .385 with no homers and one RBI in five games with the Yankees last season.

But Mesa, who will be 27 at the end of January, has pretty much played himself out of prospect status after hitting .261 with 13 home runs and 39 RBIs with 13 steals in 84 games with Scranton. His 112 strikeouts in .314 at-bats pretty much make him a right-handed hitting version of Granderson.

His power is and speed are special but those numbers come at the cost of a lot of swinging at air. Mesa is an above-average center-fielder who can run down flies with the best of them. But his all-or-nothing approach at the plate make him less likely to have much success at the major-league level.

These are the Yankees’ cream of the crop outfielders at this stage. With Beltran signed for three years and Ellsbury signed for seven there will be lots of time for them to develop in the minors.

In the meantime, Beltran and Ellsbury have elevated the quality of the outfield and there is plenty of depth with former starters Gardner and Suzuki considered as backups for the time being.

The combination of power and speed with quality defensive play makes this the strongest part of the Yankees’ roster in 2014. It could very well be one of the best outfields they have fielded in some time.

 

Ellsbury Signing Buoys Yankees, Weakens Bosox

In the world of baseball free agency there is one maxim that is absolute: It is no-brainer to want to strengthen your club but it is extremely smart to weaken your opponent’s while you are strengthening your club.

The New York Yankees not only added to their roster with the signing of Gold Glove center-fielder Jacoby Ellsbury, they significantly weaken the Boston Red Sox. Toche’.

Following in the footsteps of Johnny Damon in 2006, Ellsbury will  –  after passing a physical  –  sign a lucrative seven-year, $153 million contract with an option for an eighth year that will bring the total contract to $169 million.

Ellsbury, 30, batted .298 with eight home runs and 53 RBIs while leading the major leagues in stolen bases with 52 in 134 games last season. In 2011, Ellsbury batted .318 with a career-high 32 homers and 105 RBIs and earned his only All-Star selection and a Gold Glove.

On the heels of the five-year, $85 million contract offer to catcher Brian McCann last week, the Steinbrenner family, general manger Brain Cashman and the entire Yankees braintrust are serving notice to the other major league teams they are through with fiscal constraints that have seen them largely sit out free agency period for top-name talent for the past four seasons.

After the team suffered through a horrific string of free-agent departures and crippling injuries to the core of the team in 2013 that saw the club limp to the finish line with only 85 wins, missing the playoffs for the second time in five seasons, the Yankee hierarchy is saying enough is enough.

The McCann signing I told you last week was just the start of this new era in spending and it definitely is not over.

Ellsbury’s signing certainly brings an end to the team’s pursuit of Carlos Beltran, who had the Yankees balking at giving the 37-year-old a third year on a potential contract. The Yankees shifted off Beltran and then contacted Scott Boras, who is is Ellsbury’s agent.

The Yankees also will be saying so long to Curtis Granderson, who led the majors by hitting 84 home runs in 2011 and 2012, but he also struck out 360 times in that span. The Yankees figure his power was largely a product of Yankee Stadium and that he will not be able to maintain that level of power elsewhere.

The big question Ellsbury’s signing poses is what happens to center-fielder Brett Gardner?

Gardner, 30, is coming off his best season with the Yankees after hitting .273 with eight home runs and 52 RBIs and stealing 24 bases in 145 games. Ellsbury’s deal likely means he will become the center-fielder. So if Gardner stays with the Yankees, does he move to left?

If Gardner moves to left, where will the Yankees put left-fielder Alfonso Soriano? If Soriano moves to right-field, what happens to holdovers Vernon Wells and Ichiro Suzuki, who are both signed for the 2014 season?

The Yankees could choose to package Gardner in a trade and get something of value back for him but they will not get much back for either Wells or Suzuki. Both showed signs that indicated that their careers, which were once quite productive, are coming to a quick end.

Wells, who will turn 36 on Dec. 8, batted .233 with 11 home runs and 50 RBIs in 130 games last season. But he hit only one home run after May 15 and he largely was pretty useless unless he was facing a left-handed pitcher. Because the Los Angels Angels are paying a huge portion of his contract, the Yankees would have no problem releasing him if they wanted to do so.

Suzuki, 40, hit .262 with seven homers and 35 RBIs in 150 games. He was mostly a non-factor late in the season, hitting .228 in August and .205 in September. Suzuki, however, does have some value as a platoon designated hitter, a late-inning defensive replacement in the outfield and a pinch-runner. But his days of full-time play appear to be over.

There also is another big question about the Ellsbury signing. Where does this leave the Yankees with respect to second baseman Robinson Cano?

With the two main rivals of the Yankees for Cano’s services, the Los Angels Dodgers and the Detroit Tigers, out of the bidding, Cano has lowered his 10-year, $305 million demands. But the Yankees have not raised their offer from their initial seven-year, $160 million bid.

But the Yankees seem to have the cash sufficient enough to get into the eight-year, $240 million range and talks with Cano will continue.

The Yankees are also looking to add 400 innings to their starting rotation by signing a pair of free-agent starting pitchers this winter.

Phil Hughes , 27, is poised to sign a three-year, $24 million with the Minnesota Twins. The Yankees, however, felt Hughes was more suited to a bullpen role after he turned in a horrific 4-14 record and a 5.14 ERA last season.

The Yankees are targeting the re-signing of Hiroki Kuroda, 38, who was 11-13 with a 3.31 ERA last season for the Yankees, and fellow Japanese right-hander Masahiro Tanaka, 25,  who was 24-0 with a 1.27 ERA with the Rakuten Golden Eagles this season.

The Yankees intend to be much more aggressive in the bidding process for Tanaka than they were for right-hander Yu Darvish, who signed with Texas after the Rangers posted $51.7 million bid for the right to sign him.

The Yankees could bid as much as they want without the cost affecting the $189 million salary limits for 2014. They also have some salary flexibility with the retirements of Mariano Rivera and Andy Pettitte, the decision to allow Granderson to leave and the likely suspension of third basemen Alex Rodriguez for the entire 2014 season, which means they will not have to pay his annual $25 million salary.

The best part of the Ellsbury deal was that it is the first shot off the bow on Red Sox Nation.

The Red Sox have a number of key contributors to their 2014 season like Ellsbury, catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia, shortstop Stephen Drew and first baseman Mike Napoli trolling the free-agent waters. Each one of those losses forces the Bosox to find replacements elsewhere and there is no guarantee those replacements will maintain the same chemistry the team had last season.

The Red Sox Nation social media is already doing the usual “Ellsbury stinks” and “Ellsbury is old” rants and they are already touting Jackie Bradley Jr. as the next Willie Mays in center. But, to be sure, they are hurting deeply on the inside. Ellsbury was part of the corps that the Red Sox counted upon last season and he is gone to the “Evil Empire” no less.

He expects to be booed in Boston. It will just be interesting to see how he is treated in New York. My guess is, like Damon and Kevin Youkilis (very briefly) last season, the Yankees will warm up to Ellsbury.

After all, any signing that weakens the Red Sox is fine by me. It also will be just fine with the Yankee Universe.

 

Yankees Wrist Watch: Tex’s Rehab On Schedule

Sometimes a baseball season can hinge on one flick of the wrist. In Mark Teixeira’s case it was a painful one.

Teixeira’s hallmark had always been his durability. In his first nine seasons he had never played less than 132 games and had averaged 153 games played.

But his 2012 season with the Yankees was cut short with thumb and calf injuries that limited him to a career-low 123 games played. He started spring training determined to rebound with a productive 2014 campaign.

Unfortunately, while preparing for an exhibition game as part of the World Baseball Classic with Team USA in Arizona, Teixeira took a batting practice swing that sent pain reverberating through his right wrist. He immediately knew something was terribly wrong.

Instead of starting the season playing first base with the Yankees, he was fitted for a cast and given a choice in his rehabilitation: He could have surgery to repair a torn sheath in the wrist that would end his season or he could try a period of two months of rest to allow the wrist to heal.

Teixeira, 33, elected the latter, which was the smart move because if his wrist did not heal properly he could always have the surgery later and still be ready for the 2014 season.

As misfortune would have it during the Yankees’ most injury-filled season in franchise history, Teixeira finally had to admit the wrist was not healing.

Losing a productive hitter is one thing thing. But losing a Gold Glove-quality first baseman like Teixeira was devastating.

Teixeira played his first game on May 31 but it became obvious as the weeks wore on that the “pop” in his bat was just not there. The wrist was fine batting left-handed but it ached miserably when he batted right-handed.

Finally, on June 15, Teixeira was removed from the lineup in a game against the Los Angeles Angels and he never returned. Teixeira’s 2014 season ended after 15 games and only 53 at-bats in which he hit an awful .151 with three home runs and 12 RBIs.

His season was not much different from his fellow Yankee brethren as the club limped to the finish line with an 85-77 mark, tied with the Baltimore Orioles for third place in the American League East.

Well, how is Teixeira doing in his rehab after wrist surgery?

The latest word is pretty good. He has been out of his cast for some time and currently is working on exercises to give his wrist normal range of motion and he is taking only slow swings to loosen up the wrist without overtaxing it.

His schedule calls for working on strength and flexibility in December and by January he hopes to be taking full swings and hitting off a tee. In February, barring any setbacks, he hopes to be taking hacks off a pitching machine and by March he hopes to be taking live batting practice.

Teixeira plans to begin playing spring training games by the first week of March.

The veteran also said on the YES Network’s “Hot Stove” program that he will stop using a weighted bat and will cut down on the amount of swings he takes in preparing for games in order to take pressure off the wrist. Teixeira also might require more days off to rest his body and stay sharp for the entire season.

The Yankees signed Teixeira to a eight-year, $180-million free-agent contract in 2009. In his first three healthy seasons with the club, Teixeira has averaged 37 home runs and 114 RBIs. But in that time his batting averages have dipped from .292 in 2009, to .256 in 2010 to .248 in 2011.

While Teixeira briefly toyed with the idea of dropping his pull approach he has simply embraced the fact that he is paid to hit homers and produce runs and he is no longer too concerned about his average anymore.

Also during his first four seasons, Teixeira managed to make two All-Star teams, win a Silver Slugger award in 2009 and selected for three Gold Gloves (2009, 2010 and 2012).

For all the production Teixeira provides as a switch-hitter in the middle of the lineup, it is his defense that draws rave reviews from teammates and fans. The former third baseman simply has dynamic range, exceptional agility and a great pair of hands.

He can take away extra-base hits with ease and scoop throws in the dirt to save his fellow infielders errors. Though many fans believe Don Mattingly was the best fielding first baseman in Yankee history, Tex’s five Gold Gloves at least put him in the argument.

The Yankees missed Teixeira dearly last season.

They were forced to sign 37-year-old journeyman Lyle Overbay to fill in for Teixeira in the final week of spring training. Though Overbay could come close to Teixeira with his glove, he was a definite step down in power and in production.

Overbay hit .240 with just 14 homers and 59 RBIs in 142 games. Though Overbay handled right-handers by posting a .258 mark. He only was able to hit .190 and was woefully overmatched by lefties. Because the Yankees did not have a right-handed hitting option after they lost Kevin Youkilis to a recurrence of a nagging back injury on June 13, the Yankees were forced to use Overbay every day and they paid dearly for it.

The Yankees’ current roster lists veteran outfielder Vernon Wells as the backup at first base. But Wells has made only one start at the position in his career and that was last season with the Yankees.

The Yankees might consider re-signing corner infielder Mark Reynolds, who hit .238 with six home runs and 19 RBIs in 36 games after the Yankees signed him as a free agent on July 19.

Reynolds, 30, made 24 starts at first and 14 at third base for the Yankees. He could become the starter at third base should Alex Rodriguez end up being suspended by Major League Baseball as part of the Biogenesis scandal. An arbitrator has heard the case but he is not expected to rule until December.

The Yankees also might have an interest in former Texas Rangers infielder Michael Young.

It does not appear the Yankees have much interest in free agent first basemen Kendrys Morales, Paul Konerko, Justin Morneau or Carlos Pena. They would cost top dollar to sign any of them and they would not play much behind Teixeira in any event.

There is not much help at first base in the minor leagues because the Yankees used journeyman Dan Johnson at first at Triple-A Scranton last season. Johnson did hit .250 with 21 home runs and 71 RBIs in 138 games but he is not much of a prospect at age 34.

Kyle Roller, 25, batted .253 with 17 home runs and 69 RBIs at Double-A Trenton but he is at least two years away from making an impact.

So the Yankees will definitely have look for corner infield support for both Rodriguez and Teixiera this winter.

Tex’s days of playing 158 games appear to be over and the Yankees do need to look at spelling him this season. He is coming off wrist surgery and that is a concern. But the fact Jose Bautista of the Toronto Blue Jays was able to come back after similar surgery in 2012 certainly bodes well for Teixiera.

As they say, the trick is all in the wrist and Teixeira plans on showing Yankee fans he is not through playing at a high level. Time is definitely on his side.

 

No Sale! Yanks Cash In 5 Late Runs To Sink Chisox

GAME 138

YANKEES 6, WHITE SOX 4

Through 7 1/3 innings on Tuesday the White Sox were sailing along behind left-hander Chris Sale and boasting a seemingly insurmountable 4-1 edge. But the wind got let out of their “Sale” and the Yankees got off the poop deck for an epic, exciting come-from-behind victory that kept their playoff hopes alive.

Curtis Granderson stroked a one-out, pinch-hit RBI single off left-hander Donnie Veal and, one out later, Eduardo Nunez laced a two-run double off right-hander Matt Lindstrom to cap a five-run rally in the bottom of the eighth inning as New York stunned Chicago in front of a raucous paid Yankee Stadium crowd of 33,215.

Sale, a two-time American League All-Star, had held the Yankees to an unearned run on only three hits through 7 1/3 innings until Derek Jeter slapped a 0-1 pitch into center that ignited the miracle comeback. Robinson Cano followed by lining a 1-2 pitch off the base of the left-field wall for a double to advance Jeter to third and chase Sale from the game.

White Sox manager Robin Ventura replaced Sale with right-hander Nate Jones and trade-deadline sensation Alfonso Soriano greeted Jones by lofting a 0-2 slider into center-field to score Jeter and Cano. Alex Rodriguez followed with a single to center on a 3-2 slider to advance Soriano to third.

Ventura replaced Jones with Veal and Granderson, batting in place of Vernon Wells, lined a 3-1 pitch into center to score Soriano with the tying run.

After Veal struck out Mark Reynolds on a 3-2 fastball, Ventura brought in his third reliever of the inning in Lindstrom to face Nunez.

Nunez then slapped a 1-1 fastball down the left-field line to score Rodriguez and Granderson as what was left of the huge throng stood on its feet and cheered as if the Yankees already had clinched a playoff spot. Nunez stood at second base and raised both arms to celebrate his heroic hit.

Mariano Rivera came in the ninth to earn his 40th save with a perfect frame, striking out two batters and punctuating the grand evening with a called strike three on pinch-hitter Leury Garcia.

Boone Logan (5-2) pitched a perfect eighth in relief to earn the victory. Jones (4-5) took the loss.

The game was very much a pitchers’ duel between the Chisox ace, Sale, and Yankee right-hander Hiroki Kuroda.

The White Sox opened the scoring in the first inning when Gordon Beckham blasted a one-out double off the left-field wall and Alexei Ramirez then reached on a fielding error at short by Nunez.

Adam Dunn then singled to center to score Beckham.

The Yankees resorted to some rare base-running trickery to score the tying run in the second inning.

Wells singled up the middle and advanced to second on an error by Beckham when the second baseman kicked the ball into left-field. One out later, Nunez reached first on a fielding error by third baseman Conor Gillaspie allowing Wells to move to third.

With two out, Yankees manager Joe Girardi rolled the dice and had Nunez break for second and stop midway between first and second base. When catcher Josh Phegley threw the ball to Beckham at second base, Wells broke for home and he slid in ahead of the return throw to Phegley from Beckham.

But the White Sox reclaimed the lead in the fifth off Kuroda when Alejandro De Aza singled and stole second. Beckham then drew a walk on 11 pitches. Ramirez scored by De Aza and Beckham with a triple into the left-field corner.

De Aza padded the lead to 4-1 with one out in the seventh inning when he cranked a solo homer into the short porch in right-field. That also ended Kuroda’s evening.

Kuroda was charged with four runs on seven hits and two walks while he fanned seven in 6 1/3 innings.

Sales yielded three runs (two earned) on five hits and one walk while he struck out six in 7 1/3 innings.

The victory improved the Yankees’ season ledger to 74-64 and kept them within eight games of the first-place Boston Red Sox in the American League East. However, the Baltimore Orioles lost to the Cleveland Indians, which allowed the Yankees to move back ahead of the O’s in third place in the division.

The Yankees also have climbed to within two games of the slumping Tampa Bay Rays for a wild-card playoff spot.

The White Sox, who have gave up eight runs in the fifth inning to the Yankees on Monday and five runs in the eighth inning to the Yankees on Tuesday, are now 56-81.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • The only reason Nunez was in the game at shortstop was because with Sale on the mound Girardi elected to insert Jeter as the designated hitter and have Nunez play shortstop to get seven right-handed hitters into the lineup. Despite his fielding error in the first, Nunez was 2-for-4 with a pair of doubles, a stolen base and two RBIs in the game. Nunez was hitting a paltry .219 on Aug. 6 but he is 25-for-75 (.333) with a home run and 13 RBIs since then. He also has raised his season average to .255.
  • Soriano’s amazing run at the plate since he was acquired by the Yankees on July 26 continued on Tuesday. He was just 1-for-4 but that single drove in two huge runs in the eighth inning that drew the Yankees to within a run of the Chisox. Soriano is hitting .261 with 12 home runs and 37 RBIs in his 35 games back in pinstripes.
  • Jeter entered the game with just four hits in his past 27 at-bats. He responded by going 2-for-3 and a run scored on Tuesday. In his two games against the Chisox, Jeter is 4-for-7 (.571) with two runs scored and two RBIs. The Yankees also took note that Jeter seems to be running much better on his formerly fractured left ankle.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

The Yankees can’t be happy with Kuroda’s recent pitching slump, which continued on Tuesday. But they have to be pleased that the team mustered the wherewithal to put together that amazing eighth-inning rally when they so desperately needed a victory to keep pace for a wild-card spot. The Yankees snatched victory out the jaws of defeat and this one possibly may carry them for the next few days.

BOMBER BANTER

Jeter’s hit in the eight inning was the 3,315th of his career and moved him ahead of Eddie Collins in ninth place on the all-time hits list.  . . .  Wells’ steal of home in the second inning on Tuesday was the first of his career and it was the Yankees’ first since Mark Teixeira pulled it off against the Oakland Athletics on June 1, 2011 on an attempted pickoff throw by catcher Kurt Suzuki on Rodriguez at first base.

ON DECK

The Yankees can repay the Chisox for their sweep of the Yankees last month in Chicago with a sweep of them on Wednesday.

Left-hander CC Sabathia (12-11, 4.91 ERA) will start for the Yankees. Sabathia gave up five runs for the sixth time in his past nine starts on Friday against the Orioles but he still was able to win the game. He is 18-4 with a 3.64 ERA in the past 10 seasons against the White Sox.

The White Sox will start right-handed rookie Erik Johnson, who will be making his major-league debut. Johnson was a combined 12-3 with a 1.96 ERA in 24 starts at Double-A Birmingham and Triple-A Charlotte. Johnson is 23 years old and he is rated as the team’s No. 2 prospect by MLB.com.

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

 

Yanks’ 8-Run Deluge In 4th Drowns Hapless Chisox

GAME 136

YANKEES 9, WHITE SOX1

They had to be wondering when  –  or even if  –  it was ever going to stop. What started out as a just a trickle became a torrent and there was nothing but dark angry clouds overhead.

I am not talking about the paid Yankee Stadium crowd of 40,125 that had to brave a one-hour and 53-minute rain delay and halted the game with one out in the top of the second inning. I am speaking about the Chicago White Sox during the Yankees’ eight-run bottom of the fourth inning as 13 batters came to the plate in a frame that took 32 minutes to play.

New York rode that eight-run explosion  –  the team’s largest run total of any inning this season  –  to a comfortable thrashing of last-place Chicago in a Labor Day matinee.

The Yankees began the inning with a 1-0 lead with which Derek Jeter had staked them on an RBI single following a leadoff double by Brett Gardner off left-hander Jose Quintana (7-5) in the bottom of the first.

Alex Rodriguez opened the fourth with a double off right-hander Dylan Axelrod, who replaced Quintana after the rain delay in the bottom of the second. Vernon Wells then reached on an infield single and Curtis Granderson drew a walk to load the bases.

Mark Reynolds opened the scoring with an infield single that scored Rodriguez. Austin Romine followed with a two-run single to center and Gardner stroked his second double of the day to score Reynolds and advance Romine to third.

Jeter scored Romine on an infield roller to third and, one out later, Alfonso Soriano laced an RBI double to left to score Gardner and advance Jeter to third.

After Rodriguez walked to reload the bases, White Sox manager Robin Ventura lifted Axelrod in favor of right-hander Jeff Petricka.

Wells grounded into what appeared to be a routine inning-ending double-play ball to Adam Dunn at first. However, Dunn’s toss to second base was behind shortstop Alexei Ramirez, which allowed Jeter and Soriano to score and left Rodriguez safe on the error at second.

That gave the Yankees a 9-0 lead over a White Sox team that had swept them in a three-game series at U.S. Cellular Field in Chicago from Aug. 5-7.

Veteran left-hander David Huff (2-0) relieved starter Phil Hughes after the rain delay with one out in the second inning and pitched 5 2/3 innings of one-run baseball to gain credit for the victory.

Paul Konerko connected for a solo home run  –  his 10th of the season  –  with one out in the seventh to account for the only run for the Chisox.

Huff yielded five hits, walked none and fanned three batters to pick up his second victory with the Yankees.

Axelrod, on the other hand, was shelled for eight runs (six earned) on eight hits and two walks and struck one in 2 1/3 innings.

The victory improved the Yankees’ season record to 73-64 and they are eight games behind the first-place Boston Red Sox in fourth place in the American League East. However, the Yankees are just three games back in the wild-card standings. The White Sox fell to 58-80.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Jeter entered the game hitting .167 in the 11 games in which he played this season. But Jeter broke through by going 2-for-4 with a run scored and two RBIs. Jeter also looked good advancing to third on a fly ball to right off the bat of Robinson Cano in the first inning. Jeter’s two hits raised his season average to .196.
  • Gardner was 2-for-5 with two doubles, two runs scored and an RBI. In his past four games, Gardner is 7-for-17 (.412) with five doubles, five runs scored and two RBIs. The hot streak has raised Gardner’s season average to .273 and he has eight homers and 45 RBIs out of the leadoff spot.
  • Huff, 29, has been excellent since he was called up from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre on Aug. 16. In his five appearances, Huff has given up just one run on six hits and a walk while striking out 10 batters in 16 innings of work. That is an ERA of 0.56 and a WHIP of 0.43. If Hughes loses his starting spot it most definitely will be given to the left-hander.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

After Sunday’s disastrous bullpen meltdown and after being swept this same White Sox team a month ago, it was good to see the Yankees put the game away early. The Yankees can’t afford to let teams think they still have a chance to win when they have a lead. They nailed the door shut and got the White Sox to give up early. I have nothing critical to say.

BOMBER BANTER

After being called up and being sent down five times in a 10-day period, Preston Claiborne was recalled  –  likely for the rest of the season  –  from Class-A Tampa on Monday by the Yankees. The Yankees now have 31 players on their expanded September roster, including 11 relief pitchers. Claiborne, 25, is 0-1 with a 2.78 ERA in 37 appearances with the Yankees this season.  . . .  Left-hander Cesar Cabral and catcher J.R. Murphy both made their major-league debuts on Monday for the Yankees and Murphy’s insertion into the game as pinch-hitter in the eighth inning for Robinson Cano set an all-time record for the Yankees when they used their 52nd player of the season. Murphy, 22, collected his first major-league hit in that pinch-hitting appearance, drilling a hot shot to third that was scored an infield hit. Meanwhile, Cabral, 24, pitched a scoreless eighth inning, giving up one hit and striking out two batters. Cabral, a left-hander, missed all of the 2012 season after suffering a stress fracture in his left elbow in his final appearance of spring training.

ON DECK

The Yankees will continue their three-game series with the White Sox on Tuesday.

Hiroki Kuroda (11-10, 2.89 ERA) will get the nod for the Yankees. The 39-year-old right-hander has been blasted for 12 runs in his past two outings and needs to get back to his previous form for the Yankees to have a shot of winning a playoff spot. Kuroda is 2-2 with a 2.86 ERA in his career against the Chisox.

The White Sox will counter with left-hander Chris Sale (10-12, 2.99 ERA). Sale set a franchise record with his fourth start of 12 strikeouts or more in a victory over the Houston Astros. He has a personal high of 193 strikeouts for the season. He is 2-0 with 0.49 ERA in his career against the Yankees.

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

 

Red-Hot Yankees Take Out Brooms On Blue Jays

GAME 127

YANKEES 5, BLUE JAYS 3

If the Yankees could play the Blue jays every day they would never have to worry about making the playoffs. After sitting out a three-hour and thirty-two minute rain delay on Thursday the Yankees showed Canada’s team that trying to beat them these days is pretty much a futile exercise.

The Yankees got six strong innings out of Andy Pettitte and they used some timely hitting in the middle innings to sweep Toronto in the four-game series and end the 2013 season with a 10-0 record against them at home in front of a paid crowd of 40,116.

The Yankees not only have won five in a row and 11 of their past 14 games, but they also moved to within 3 1/2 games of an American League wild-card spot with 35 games left to play in the season.

Pettitte (9-9) held the Jays to just one run on four hits and three walks while he fanned three to win his second straight start after not having won in his previous five starts. Pettitte also evened his record as he has never recorded a losing season in his 18 years in the majors.

The Blue Jays scored their only run off Pettitte when J.P. Arencibia led off the fifth inning with a home run into the left-field bleachers.

But the Yankees quickly evened it up at the start of the bottom of the fifth when Curtis Granderson launched a rocket of his own into the second deck in right-field off left-hander J.A. Happ (3-3) for his fourth home run of the season.

In a sense it was a bit of retribution for Granderson because it was Happ who hit him in the right forearm on the first pitch he saw in his first spring training game on Feb. 24 and it forced him to miss the first six weeks of the regular season.

The Yankees ended up taking the lead later in the inning but how it unfolded and how they scored the run was just about as bizarre as it can get.

With one out, Happ walked Eduardo Nunez and Chris Stewart followed with a single to center. The Yankees then loaded the bases when Happ issued a walk to Ichiro Suzuki.

Vernon Wells then slapped a sinking line drive into center-field that replays showed was caught on a sliding attempt by Rajai Davis.

However, first-base umpire Scott Barry ruled the ball was trapped and Davis threw the ball to second baseman Munenori Kawasaki as Nunez tagged up and headed home with the lead run.

Kawasaki first tagged Stewart off second base and then tagged Suzuki on second base. Stewart was ruled out and Suzuki was ruled safe. However, the Yankees got credit for the run because Nunez touched home plate just before Stewart was tagged.

Blue Jays manager John Gibbons argued the call and was ejected by Barry. Moments later crew chief Ted Barrett also gave Blue Jays left-hander Mark Buehrle the heave-ho.

Despite the missed catch call Nunez would have scored the tie-breaking run in either case.

The Yankees then broke the game open and chased Happ in the sixth inning when Happ walked both Alex Rodriguez and Granderson with one out.

Right-hander Brad Lincoln was summoned from the bullpen and he promptly loaded the bases by walking Mark Reynolds. Nunez followed with a two-run single to right-center.

Blue Jays left-hander Aaron Loup then relieved Lincoln and Stewart closed out the Yankees’ scoring for the evening by plating Reynolds on a sensational grab of a grounder and a jump throw from well into foul territory by third baseman Brett Lawrie.

Happ was charged with four runs on three hits and five walks while he struck out four in 5 1/3 innings. The other run was charged to Lincoln.

The Blue Jays did make it interesting by scoring a pair of runs in the seventh inning off right-hander Shawn Kelley on an RBI single by Kawasaki and a RBI groundout off the bat of Edwin Encarnacion.

But Boone Logan shut the door on the rally by striking out Adam Lind with two on and two out.

Rookie right-hander Preston Claiborne, who was just recalled from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre before the game, pitched a scoreless eighth and David Robertson twirled a perfect ninth to earn his second save because Mariano Rivera was unavailable to pitch.

The Yankees’ season record now stands at 67-59 and they remain six games behind first-place Boston in fourth place in the American League East. The Blue Jays are now 57-71 and they remain deep in the division basement.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • After struggling much of the summer, Pettitte is showing signs of coming around. In his past two starts he has yielded only four runs (one earned) on 10 hits and four walks with eight strikeouts in 12 2/3 innings. That is an ERA of 0.71. If the Yankees are to make a legitimate run a playoff spot they will need their No. 4 starter to pitch well.
  • Nunez two-run single with the bases loaded in the sixth inning proved to be the back-breaker for the Blue Jays. Nunez is having much more success at the plate. Since Aug. 7, Nunez is 17-for-50 (.340) with a home run and nine RBIs. It is shame he is likely to lose his starting spot to Derek Jeter this weekend.
  • Rodriguez was 0-for-3 with a walk and run scored. But he actually helped win the game with his glove in the fifth inning. After Arencibia’s homer, the Jays loaded the bases with one out when Reyes reached on an infield single. Davis then smashed a scorching ground ball that Rodriguez was able to glove before it scooted past him. He then stepped on third and threw to first to double up the speedy Davis to end the inning.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

When the Yankees win five in a row there is not much to complain about. The team is finding ways to win games and a large part of it is the batting order they now have is not the one of three weeks ago that looked like the team was playing a split-squad game in Clearwater, FL, in March. The pitching is beginning to shine again also.

BOMBER BANTER

The human yo-yo, Claiborne, was recalled on Thursday to replace infielder Jayson Nix on the 15-man roster. Nix likely will miss the rest of the regular season with a fractured left hand he suffered when he was struck by a pitch from R.A. Dickey in second inning of Wednesday’s game.  Last Friday, Claiborne was optioned to the RailRiders to make room for Reynolds on the roster. On Tuesday, he was called up as the team’s 26th roster player for a doubleheader with the Blue Jays and he was sent back to Scranton the next day. But on Thursday he was back with the team.  . . .  Jeter batted second and played shortstop on Friday in a minor-league rehab game for Scranton against the Pawtucket Red Sox on Thursday. Jeter, who is recovering from a mild calf strain, likely will play another rehab game for Scranton on Friday and he could rejoin the Yankees on Saturday when the Yankees face the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, FL.

ON DECK

The Yankees open a critical weekend road series with the Rays on Friday.

Ace right-hander Hiroki Kuroda (11-8, 2.41 ERA) will pitch for the Yankees. Kuroda is looking to bounce back after giving up 11 hits on Saturday in a loss to the Red Sox. It was just his second loss in his past eight starts. Kuroda is 2-1 with 6.11 ERA in his career against the Rays.

Right-hander Chris Archer (6-5, 2.95 ERA) will pitch for the Rays. Archer allowed one run on four hits in seven innings against the Blue Jays on Sunday but he did not get a decision. He is 2-0 with 0.60 ERA against the Yankees in two starts this season.

Game-time will be 7:10 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast by MY9.