Tagged: Willie Mays

Tex’s Double, A-Rod’s 661st Spur Yankees Past O’s

GAME 29

YANKEES 4, ORIOLES 3

The Pythagorean Theorem. Newton’s Law. Einstein’s Theory of Relativity. You can now add to those “The Joe Girardi Formula,” which is (1) get a lead by the sixth inning (2) go to your terrific bullpen and (3) win the game.

As an equation it would read: L(6th) + B(GAS) = V

That is exactly the formula the Yankees have used all season and it worked again against the Orioles on Thursday at Yankee Stadium.

Alex Rodriguez blasted the 661st home run of his career to pass Willie Mays, Mark Teixeira drove in two runs  –  including a game-winning double in the fifth  –  and New York’s awesome bullpen held Baltimore scoreless over the final 3 1/3 innings for their 18th victory of the season.

The Yankees and Orioles were locked in a bit of a seesaw affair for five innings in a pitching matchup between right-handers Chris Tillman and Nathan Eovaldi.

The Orioles drew first blood when Jimmy Parades tagged an Eovaldi fastball into the bullpen right-center for his fourth home run of the season and an early 1-0 lead with one out in the first inning.

But the Yankees responded the bottom of the frame when Jacoby Ellsbury extended his hitting streak to nine games with a leadoff single and he advanced to third on a single by Brett Gardner.

Rodriguez then launched a high-arcing ball to right that right-fielder Delmon Young grabbed off the top of the wall to rob him of what would have been No. 661. But he settled for a sacrifice fly that scored Ellsbury. Teixeira then followed with a shot off the wall in right that scored Gardner. Teixeira was thrown out trying to stretch the hit into a double on a throw from Young.

The Orioles tied it in the third inning on a one-out solo home run off the bat of Caleb Joseph, his third of the season.

The Yankees then took back the lead with two out in the third inning when Rodriguez launched a Tillman fastball just to the left of straightaway center for his seventh home run of the season and the one that now places him alone in fourth place on the all-time home run list behind Barry Bonds, Hank Aaron and Babe Ruth.

Most of the paid crowd of 39,816 were on their feet demanding a curtain call for the 40-year-old designated hitter and Rodriguez obliged with both arms raised in front of the home dugout.

Eovaldi, however, was unable to hold that lead either. Travis Snider led off the fifth with a ringing double down the right-field line and Joseph scored him with an RBI double.

But Eovaldi was able to wriggle out of a jam when Manny Machado sacrificed Joseph to third and he walked Paredes. First, he picked off Paredes and then he retired hot-hitting Adam Jones, who ended up 0-for-4 on the night, on a groundout.

The Yankees then reclaimed the lead for good in the fifth after Gardner doubled to start the inning and, one out later, Teixeira laced an RBI double into right to score Gardner.

Tillman (2-4) was charged four runs on 10 hits and three walks with three strikeouts in 5 2/3 innings. The Orioles’ ace entered play with a career ERA of 7.47 at Yankee Stadium, his highest ERA in any ballpark.

Eovaldi (4-0) also left in the sixth with Young on third and J.J. Hardy on first with two out. Left-hander Justin Wilson came on to retire Snider on a groundout.

Eovaldi was charged with three runs on six hits and three walks with three strikeouts in 5 2/3 innings to earn his first career victory at Yankee Stadium.

Wilson pitched a perfect seventh and Dellin Betances hurled a perfect eighth. Andrew Miller pitched around a leadoff four-pitch walk to Steve Pearce by retiring the next three hitters, two of them via the strikeout, to earn his Major-League-leading 12th save of the season in 12 chances.

With the victory, the Yankees are 18-11 and they have opened up a three-game lead over the second-place Tampa Bay Rays in the American League East. The Orioles fell to 12-14 and they are tied with the Boston Red Sox for last place in the division, 4 1/2 games behind the Yankees.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • A-Rod had himself a good night by going 2-for-3 including his historic home run and he drove in two runs. Though he is batting only .245, he is second on the team with seven homers and 18 RBIs. Gardner and Ellsbury combined to go 4-for-7 with a walk, a double and three runs scored and they are making it very easy for Rodriguez and Teixeira to drive in runs.
  • Tex is also holding up his end in the cleanup spot. He was 2-for-3 with a double and two RBIs and he now leads the team with 10 homers and 25 RBIs despite batting only .223. Teixeira is on a pace to drive in more than 130 runs this season.
  • Wilson, Betances and Miller combined to retire 10 of the final 11 batters they faced, striking out three and only allowing one ball to reach the outfield. Though Eovaldi was shaky at times, he at least pitched far enough into the contest to allow this very special bullpen to do its work.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • Although Carlos Beltran was 0-for-4 in the game, which lowered his season average to .187, I did see some encouraging signs. Beltran hit two balls hard into the deepest part of center-field in the fourth and the fifth innings. Beltran remains without a home run and he has driven in just nine runs. The Yankees keep hoping he gets into a groove but for now we are still waiting.
  • Though A-Rod and Tex got into the swing of things, Brian McCann did not in the fifth spot in the order. He also was 0-for-4 with a strikeout. McCann keeps hitting right into the teeth of the shift and that has dragged his season average down to .227.
  • Eovaldi might remind Yankee fans of Phil Hughes, who also dealt with problems getting outs with two strikes and keeping the ball in the ballpark. There is no denying that Eovaldi’s velocity is impressive. But the command of his pitches is still an issue that he needs improve. With Masahiro Tanaka on the disabled list, the Yankees need Eovaldi to step up.

BOMBER BANTER

Tanaka took a first step in his recovery from tendinitis in right wrist and mild strain in his right forearm by making 50 throws from 60 feet prior to Thursday’s game. The 26-year-old right-hander did not feel any pain and general manager Brian Cashman told reporters that Tanaka remains on a timetable that will allow him to return in a month.  . . .  Despite the fact Jose Pirela had two hits in his season debut at second base on Wednesday, Stephen Drew will remain the starter at second for now. Drew was 1-for-3 with a double and a walk on Thursday but he is still batting .169 with four homers and 10 RBIs in 26 games.

ON DECK

The Yankees will continue their four-game home weekend series with the Orioles on Friday.

Right-hander Adam Warren (2-1, 4.78 ERA) will start for the Yankees. He got credit for a victory over the Red Sox on Sunday despite yielding four runs on four hits and two walks in 5 2/3 innings. It will be Warren’s first appearance against the O’s as a starter.

The Orioles will counter with right-hander Miguel Gonzalez (3-1, 2.59 ERA). Gonzalez, 30, shut out the Rays on four hits and a walk with six strikeouts in 7 2/3 innings for a victory on Saturday. He defeated the Yankees at Oriole Park at Camden Yards on April 14.

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

 

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Fenway Quiet As A-Rod’s 660th Homer Bites Bosox

GAME 23

YANKEES 3, RED SOX 2

If there is any place where Alex Rodriguez would hear the loudest boos it would hands down be at Fenway Park. That is exactly the way it played out on Friday when Rodriguez pinch-hit in the eighth inning. But he managed to silence the 35,444 in attendance with one historically significant swing.

Rodriguez laced a 3-0 fastball off right-hander Junichi Tazawa into the seats above the Green Monster in left to break a 2-2 tie and give New York a thrilling victory over rival Boston.

The home run also was the 660th of Rodriguez’s career, which ties him for fourth on the all-time home run list with the legendary Willie Mays.

The teams remained tied into the eighth as both Red Sox right-hander Justin Masterson and Yankee left-hander CC Sabathia ended up with similar pitching lines.

The Yankees jumped into an early 1-0 lead in the first inning on a leadoff single by Jacoby Ellsbury, a one-out walk to Mark Teixeira and a two-out RBI double by struggling veteran outfielder Carlos Beltran, who entered the game batting .162.

The Red Sox tied it in the third inning when Xander Bogaerts opened the frame with a double and advanced to third on a deep fly to center by Ryan Hanigan. He then scored on a sacrifice fly by Mookie Betts.

The Red Sox then took the lead in the fourth on a solo two-out golf shot home run to left off the bat of Allen Craig for his first home run of the season.

The Yankees knotted the score in the seventh when Didi Gregorius drew a walk off Masterson. Left-hander Tommy Layne replaced Masterson and, with two out, he struck Teixeira on the right arm with a pitch and Brian McCann followed with an opposite-field single to score Gregorius.

Masterson was charged with two runs on six hits and three walks while he fanned two in 6-plus innings. Sabathia gave up two runs on seven hits and two walks and he struck out three in six innings.

Sabathia entered the game with an 0-4 record and he has not won a regular-season game since April 14 of last season against the Red Sox.

Esmil Rogers (1-1) pitched a perfect seventh inning to get credit for the victory. Tazawa (0-1) took the loss.

As has been the case all season, the Yankees relied on the “Twin Towers” of 6-foot-8 right-hander Dellin Betances and 6-foot-7 left-hander Andrew Miller to close out the final two innings.

Betances pitched around a walk and a single to keep Boston scoreless in the eighth and Miller hurled a 1-2-3 ninth to earn his ninth save in nine chances.

The Yankees improved their season record to 14-9 and they remain in first place in the American League East one game ahead of the Tampa Bay Rays. The Red Sox fell to 12-11 and they are two games behind the Yankees in third place in the division.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • A-Rod has always has had a flair for the dramatic at Fenway Park. His last homer there came off right-hander Ryan Dempster in 2013 after Dempster had deliberately hit him with a pitch in his previous at-bat. This home run came on a  3-0 pitch and strangely enough it is only the second homer of Rodriguez’s career on a 3-0 count. For the season, Rodriguez has six home runs. Rodriguez did not start the game for two reasons. The first was that manager Joe Girardi was employing an all-lefty hitting lineup against Masterson. The second is that Rodriguez entered the game 2 for his past 17 at-bats, which is a sickly .118.
  • Betances and Miller have now combined to pitch 25 2/3 scoreless innings between them. They have given up nine hits and 12 walks while they have struck out 42 batters. This is shaping up to be the strongest 1-2 combination the Yankees have had since the days of Mariano Rivera setting up for John Wetteland in 1996.
  • Beltran has been scuffling all season and he recorded no home runs and seven RBIs in the first month of the season. But on the first day of May he was 2-for-4 with a double, a single and an big two-out RBI in the first inning. The Yankees badly need to get the 38-year-old veteran untracked.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • The Yankees allowed Masterson and relievers Layne, Tazawa and Robbie Ross Jr. off the hook so many times that they stranded 12 base-runners. They loaded the bases with two out in the fifth inning when Masterson hit McCann with a pitch. However, Beltran hit a weak roller to second to leave the bases loaded. Fortunately for the Yankees, the Red Sox were 0-for-6 with runners in scoring position.
  • Garrett Jones started as the team’s designated hitter in place of Rodriguez and he was 0-for-3 with a strikeout. Jones, 33, is 5-for-30 (.167) on the season with no homers and no RBIs in 12 games. After a poor spring Jones may be playing his way out of favor. He once was considered as a potential platoon DH with Rodriguez. But that ship has sailed and Jones is getting less and less playing time.

BOMBER BANTER

All the injured players the Yankees left in spring training are progressing nicely. Left-hander Chris Capuano, who is on the disabled list with a right quadriceps strain, is scheduled to throw four innings or 60 pitches at Class-A Tampa on Saturday. Right-hander Ivan Nova, who is recovering from Tommy John surgery, is scheduled to throw one inning in an intrasquad game. Right-hander Jared Burton (oblique) is also scheduled to throw an intrasquad inning. Meanwhile, backup infielder Brendan Ryan (right calf strain) took an at-bat in extended spring training game on Friday. Infielder Jose Pirela (concussion) received a rehab assignment to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes Barre and he went 1-for-4 with a walk against Charlotte on Thursday.

ON DECK

The Yankees will continue their weekend series against the wicked evil Red Sox on Saturday.

Right-hander Nathan Eovaldi (1-0, 4.14 ERA) will start for the Yankees. Eovaldi, 25, surrendered four runs on seven hits while he struck out six in 4 1/3 innings in a no decision against the New York Mets on Sunday.

The Red Sox will counter with struggling left-hander Wade Miley (1-2, 8.62 ERA). Miley was torched for eight runs on five hits and two walks in just 2 1/3 innings against the Baltimore Orioles on Sunday.

Game-time will be 1:35 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast nationally by the MLB Network and locally by the YES Network.

 

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.

 

Red Sox Receive Their ‘Phil’ Of Yankees’ Hughes

—————————————————————————————-

What’s up Yankees the Red Sox got something to say to you
It’s late September and we really should be playing golf
We know we keep you amused but we feel we’re being “Hughesed”

                          –  Apologies to Rod Stewart for the revision of his classic Maggie May

—————————————————————————————-

GAME 143

YANKEES 2, RED SOX 0

From the first crisp fastball out of Phil Hughes hand to Jacoby Ellsbury in the first inning the Red Sox knew they might be in for a difficult night. Seven and one-third innings later Hughes’ fastball was still crackling and the Red Sox were still staring at a big, fat zero on the Fenway Park scoreboard.

Hughes pitched a thoroughly dominant game in which he shut out the Red Sox on five hits and a walk while he struck out seven batters on his high-riding four-seam fastball as New York downed Boston to retain their share of first place in the American League East on Thursday.

For Hughes (15-12) it was his first time this season he has won back-to-back starts since June 15 while it was the first time the Yankees have won back-to-back games since they defeated Texas from Aug. 13 through Aug. 15.

Hughes and Red Sox left-hander Felix Doubront traded zeros until the fourth inning when Alex Rodriguez led off the frame with his second single of the night and he stole second base.

Doubront then walked Robinson Cano and Russell Martin to load the bases and Andruw Jones launched a line drive into right that scored Rodriguez.

The game remained 1-0 until the seventh when Steve Pearce drew a one-out walk and Eduardo Nunez, starting at shortstop for a hobbling Derek Jeter, lined his second single of the night into left.

Embattled Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine then removed Doubront in favor of right-hander Junichi Tazawa to face Jeter, who was in the game as the designated hitter.

Jeter battled the hard-throwing Tazawa to a 3-2 count before lifting a bloop single into center in front of Ellsbury and Pearce scored a very important insurance run for Hughes.

In addition, the hit was personally important to Jeter. It was the 3283rd hit of Jeter’s career, which ties him with Willie Mays for 10th place on the all-time hit list.

Doubront (10-9) gave up two runs on five hits and five walks and struck out five in his 6 1/3 innings of work.

But Hughes was much better, retiring the first 10 batters he faced  and only giving up one extra-base hit during a 95-pitch outing – the 100th start of his career.

Hughes escaped trouble in the fourth when he had Scott Podsednik on third and Cody Ross on first with two out by inducing Daniel Nava into a infield groundout.

He also had Ellsbury at second and James Loney on first with two out in the sixth but retired Ross on flyout to right.

Boone Logan was summoned in the eighth to face Ellsbury after Hughes had allowed a leadoff double to Pedro Ciriaco and pinch-hitter Mauro Gomez flew out to center.

Logan retired Ellsbury on a flyout and David Robertson came in to retire pinch-hitter Ryan Lavarnway on a flyout to end the threat and keep the shutout intact.

Rafael Soriano pitched a scoreless ninth to earn his 38th save in 41 chances this season.

The victory improved the Yankees’ record to 81-62 and kept them in first place in the division with the Baltimore Orioles, who completed a sweep of the Tampa Bay Rays with a 3-2 victory in 14 innings earlier in the day. The Red Sox are 60-84 and 17 1/2 games out in last place in the division. They are sinking faster than new FOX sitcom.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Hughes at age 26 has had his ups and downs in his career with the Yankees and even during the 2012 season. But his performance on Thursday has to be one of the best of his career and likely the most important. While the pundits keep disparaging the Yankees’ starting pitching, Hughes has quietly compiled a 15-12 record and a 3.96 ERA. That is not bad for someone who was considered the team’s No. 5 starter.
  • After the bullpen let the Red Sox get back into Wednesday’s game it was nice to see them bounce back with a good effort to maintain the shutout, It was the first time the Yankees had shut out the Red Sox at Fenway since the 2008 season.
  • Give Jeter a lot of credit. He hobbled through this game with a severe bone bruise on his left shin and he got the timely hit that put the Yankees up by two runs. Tying Mays on the all-time hit list is just gravy for the 38-year-old shortstop. Jeter’s .323 average speaks volumes as to what he has meant to the Yankees this season as a leader and the team’s Most Valuable Player.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

I will mention the Yankees were 1-for-9 with runners in scoring position but because Hughes was so dominant it did not seem to matter. The fact the Yankees won with a great pitching and without hitting a home run is kind of refreshing. So there are no negatives in this one.

BOMBER BANTER

It’s official! Andy Pettitte will start for the first time since he suffered a broken left ankle on June 27 on Tuesday in a game against the Toronto Blue Jays at Yankee Stadium. Pettitte believes he will be able throw about 60 to 65 pitches in the game. Pettitte will take the rotation spot of rookie right-hander David Phelps, who will likely enter the game in relief of Pettitte should he need to leave early on Tuesday.

ON DECK

The Yankees will open a vital home series against the Rays beginning on Friday.

The Yankees will send out ace left-hander CC Sabathia (13-5, 3.56 ERA). Sabathia lost in his last start against the Orioles despite the fact he entered the game with a 16-3 career record against them. He is 10-8 with a 3.12 ERA in his career against the Rays.

The Rays will counter with left-hander David Price (17-5, 2.54 ERA), who has not pitched since Sept. 2 due to shoulder soreness. He is 6-3 with a 3.84 ERA lifetime against the Yankees.

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

 

Yankees Make Smart Move In Re-Signing Jones

The New York Yankees, much like their fans, would like to forget 2011 and look forward to the promise 2012 brings. With that promise the Yankees have made a couple of moves to improve the team and let’s assess those moves and how they will impact the team.

JONESING FOR A RIGHTY

The Yankees on Friday signed Andruw Jones to a one-year, $2 million contract that includes $1.4 million in performance incentives, CBSSports.com reported. The 34-year-old outfielder will have to undergo a physical in order for the deal to be made official.

This is very good news for the Yankees because Jones filled a very important role as the team’s only right-handed hitting outfielder. Starters Curtis Granderson and Brett Gardner hit left-handed and Nick Swisher is a switch-hitter. Jones batted .247 with 13 home runs and 33 RBis in 77 games last season. More importantly, he batted .286 off left-handers.

Jones began the season as a fourth outfielder and pinch-hitter but later replaced Jorge Posada as the designated hitter against lefties. Manager Joe Girardi also used Jones to sit Gardner against some left-handers. Jones could be used in that role again in 2012 because Gardner hit only .233 against left-handers in 2011.

If the reports are true, the Yankees also prevented the Boston Red Sox from signing Jones away from the Yankees. Jones is eighth on the active home run list with 420 and he also is among just four major leaguers who have 400 home runs and 10 Gold Gloves along with Ken Griffey Jr., Willie Mays and Mike Schmidt.

OKIE DOKE

The Yankees also added to their bullpen mix for spring training another left-handed reliever.

On Wednesday, the Yankees agreed on the terms of minor-league contract with former Red Sox lefty Hideki Okajima.

Okajima, 36, was an integral part of the Red Sox bullpen for his first three seasons in the majors. But he fell out favor with then-manager Terry Francona the past two seasons and spent most of the 2011 season at the team’s Triple-A franchise Pawtucket.

Okajima pitched in only seven games for the Red Sox in 2011 and was 1-0 with a 4.32 ERA in 8 1/3 innings of work. At Pawtucket, Okajima fashioned a 2.29 ERA in 34 innings over 51 appearances for the PawSox.

In his five seasons with the Red Sox, Okajima was 17-8 with six saves and 3.11 ERA in 261 appearances. During that span he held left-handers to a .218 batting average.

Okajima will have a chance in spring training to claim the team’s bullpen spot as the lefty specialist. He will compete with another former Red Sox left-hander in 22-year-old Cesar Cabral, who the Yankees acquired from the Royals for cash considerations after the Royals selected Cabral in the Rule 5 draft at the Winter Meetings.

For the past two seasons, the Yankees have relied on Boone Logan as their lone left-hander out of the bullpen and Logan, 27, has been miscast in the role of lefty specialist. Logan was 5-3 with a 3.46 ERA over 64 games and 41 2/3 innings. Left-handers hit .260 against him last season while right-handers hit .262.

If Okajima or Cabral win a job in the bullpen, Logan will revert to a middle-inning reliever and he has been much more effective in that role.

Okajima’s best pitch is his change-up, which Francona termed the “Okie Doke.” But he is going to have to earn his role with the Yankees because in the 8 1/3 innings he pitched last season, left-handers hit .364 off him and he recorded an ERA of 11.57 against them. So his “Okie Doke” better be more than just OK this spring.

TICK, TICK, TICK

The Yankees have until Jan. 6 to sign Japanese infielder Hiroyuki Nikajima, who they won the rights to sign by posting a $2.5 million bid in early December.

Nikajima, 29,is primarily a shortstop but he also can play some second and third base. He hit .297 with 16 home runs and 100 RBIs and 21 stolen bases in 144 games with the Seibu Lions last season.

If the Yankees fail to sign Nikajima to a contract by Jan. 6, he will remain with Seibu for the 2012 season and the $2.5 million posting fee will be returned to the Yankees. That also would open the door for the Yankees to re-sign free agent infielder Eric Chavez.

Chavez, 34, played first and third base for the Yankees in 2011 and he hit .263 with two home runs and 26 RBIs in 58 games. The Yankees will not negotiate with Chavez’s agent unless they fail to sign Nikajima.

The Yankees also have Eduardo Nunez, Ramiro Pena and Brandon Laird on the 40-man roster to compete for a backup infield role this spring. Nunez, 24, is favored to win one of the two spots unless he is used in a trade for a starting pitcher before the season begins.

ACHTUNG!

Alex Rodriguez, taking advice from Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant, traveled to Germany this month to have an experimental medical procedure performed to help his ailing left shoulder and right knee.

With the Yankees’ approval, Dr. Peter Wehling performed what is termed an Orthokine procedure in Dusseldorf in early December. Bryant claimed the Orthokine procedure on his right knee and left ankle helped him recover movement and relieve pain enough so that he could return to the court with the Lakers.

Rodriguez, 36, took the experimental procedure to the Yankees and team doctor Chris Ahmad and the Yankees checked with the Lakers and with Major League Baseball on Wehling and the legality of the procedure. They then gave Rodriguez the permission to have it done.

The procedure calls for the taking of blood from an arm vein, incubating it and spinning it in centrifuge to isolate protective proteins. The proteins are then injected into the affected areas once or twice a week.

The procedure is said to have anti-inflammatory, pain-reducing and cartilage-protecting effects but not much is known about its long-term implications.

Rodriguez played in a career-low 99 games last season and in some of those games he was playing at less than 100 percent. He hit .276 with only 16 home runs and 62 RBIs.

Rodriguez missed more than a month after undergoing surgery on his right knee in July. In his first game back from the disabled list on Aug. 21, Rodriguez suffered a sprained left thumb, which affected the third baseman’s swing the rest of the season.

He hit only .191 after returning from the injury and he hit just .111 in the American League Division Series against the Detroit Tigers.

If this procedure helps Rodriguez, the Yankees might consider seeking out an experimental procedure for command-challenged right-hander A.J. Burnett.

Perhaps a doctor can come up with a procedure to inject power-steering fluid in Burnett’s right elbow to ensure he might actually come closer to hitting the strike zone with his pitches.

TRADEWINDS

General manager Brian Cashman enters January with the “open for business” sign out on improving the starting rotation. This despite the fact that the Yankees have acted like they are the cash-strapped Kansas City Royals over the winter free-agent signing season.

The Yankees, hamstrung to a great degree by the lavish long-term contracts already laid out to CC Sabathia, Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, Mark Teixeira and Burnett, have been spending pennies while other teams have been waving $100 bills.

Cashman would like to add a starter to the rotation and perhaps unload Burnett. But the costs of free agents like C.J. Wilson, Mark Buerhle and Japan’s Yu Darvish have been higher than their actual worth, according to Cashman. Meanwhile, trade avenues have been blocked by other teams’ insistence the Yankees cough up the jewels of the Yankees’ farm system in Jesus Montero, Manny Banuelos, Dellin Betances and Mason Williams.

Cashman continues to say no to those deals because he does not want to short-circuit the Yankees’ future for a short-term fix.

So the Yankees have struck out on deals for pitchers such as John Danks, Gio Gonzlaez, Matt Garza, Jair Jurrgens and Jonathan Niese.

For now, the Yankees seem to be counting on a return to form of Phil Hughes, who suffered through an injury-plagued 2011 campaign after winning 18 games in 2010. They also do not believe that rookie right-hander Ivan Nova’s 16-win season was a fluke.

The re-signing of 34-year-old right-hander Freddy Garcia, who was a respectable 12-8 with a 3.62 ERA, means the only really Yankee concern is Burnett, who was 11-11 with a 5.15 ERA last season.

The truth is Cashman, Girardi and pitching coach Larry Rothschild are at their wits’ end trying to figure out what is wrong with Burnett. They seem to agree a change of scenery is in order. But with two years and $33 million still owed to the enigma wrapped inside a conundrum would seem to make dumping him a big problem.

The Yankees have offered to pay $7 million of Burnett’s contract but still have no takers. They might have to offer at least $15 million if they are serious about being rid of him. Of course, the Yankees would seem to be better off adding a starter before making a deal for Burnett because dumping Burnett would likely increase the cost of starter to replace him.

Adding a starting pitcher would be the only major task left for Cashman but he states he is no hurry because the Yankees do have six potential young starters waiting in the wings: Banuelos, Betances, Hector Noesi, David Phelps, Adam Warren and D.J. Mitchell. Any of those six could contribute either as starters or relievers to the Yankees in 2012.

But Cashman is aware that adding an established starter to what the Yankees have would be preferable. So he is pursuing that avenue first. If the pursuit stretches to the trade deadline in July the Yankees might find the asking price of some of starters they like may drop. Cashman is exercising and preaching at the same time for patience.

So like good little Yankee fans we are. We will have to trust him and take him at his word.

STAY TUNED

 

A-Rod’s Power Outage Doesn’t Define Year Yet

We have reached the midpoint of the 2011 season for the New York Yankees. Despite the pundits dire predictions about their so-called “suspect” starting rotation, they have the second-best record in baseball and the best record in the American League. They finished the first half on a seven-game winning streak and they were 30-12 (.714) from May 17 to July 2, the best record in baseball. Now it is time to hand out our annual report cards for the players who built that record. 

THIRD BASE  — ALEX RODRIGUEZ (.304 BA, 13 HRs, 52 RBIs)

The minute Alex Rodriguez arrived at the Yankees’ spring training complex in Tampa, FL, you could see a big difference in him. He was leaner and looked to be in the best shape of his career. The issues with his surgically repaired hip seemed well behind him.

After watching him hit line drive after line drive in spring training games, Rodriguez seemed primed for a monster season like his 2007 MVP season in which he hit 54 home runs, drove in 156 runs and batted .314. Teammates marveled at how “locked in” A-Rod’s swing was.

However, an early-season oblique and back strain short-circuited Rodriguez’s fast start soon after he homered and drove in six on April 23 in a game in Baltimore. The average dipped and the power declined. Then the average started to pick up and the power came sporadically.

In June, Rodriguez’s season really began to take shape. He hit .326 for the month and drove in 21 runs. No complaints there. But he hit only four home runs. So Yankee watchers are asking, why at the halfway mark is Rodriguez the fourth on the team in home runs? Why is he fourth on the team in RBIs? Yet he leads the team in batting average at .304. What gives here?

It is an odd set of numbers for any cleanup hitter — much less a cleanup hitter who has routinely been among the leaders in baseball in home runs and RBIs during his previous 16 seasons in the majors.

Oh, there are whispers that the hip is still bothering him. There are those who cite the fact he is not taking steroids anymore. Others might even blame his breakup with Cameron Diaz, if that makes sense.

But, whatever the reason for the dip in power and productivity, a season in which a player hits .304, hits 26 home runs and drives in 104 runs is considered a pretty good season for most players — that is for most players not named Alex Rodriguez.

So the big question about A-Rod heading into the second half of the 2011 season is when is that famous flurry of home runs and RBIs going to come? Yankee fans have come to expect it because Rodriguez has not failed to hit 30 home runs and drive in 100 runs in any season in the last 14 years. It is the longest such streak in baseball. Based on Rodriguez’s 13 home runs in the first 81 games it is in serious jeopardy without a flurry of home runs sometime in the second half.

So Yankee fans will have to be patient until it comes.

By any measure, Rodriguez is doing everything he can to help this team win. He is playing perhaps the best third base of his career with the Yankees this season. He has committed only four errors and his lateral movement seems to have improved with his drop in weight. He has made all the routine plays and he even is making some diving stops to his left. He also is using him arm to make plays from deep down the line.

He also seems to have blended into the Yankees as a respected teammate. A-Rod even took it upon himself to counsel left-hand reliever Boone Logan about coming into games with a game plan on how to pitch hitters. It is hard to believe an A-Rod of a few years ago doing that.

And, just when you think all is quiet in the A-Rod “off-the-field” stuff, up surfaces a report about high-stakes poker games with actors. What a season be without a juicy A-Rod story from outside the lines of the field!

But, even with all that, Rodriguez remains one of the game’s best, brightest and most talented stars. At age 35 (he will turn 36 on July 27), Rodriguez is 136 home runs short of the 762 that Barry Bonds hit. With that motivation hanging out there, it would seem Rodriguez would be anxious to put himself closer as he sets his sights on Ken Griffey Jr. (630), Willie Mays (660), Babe Ruth (714) and Hank Aaron (755) who lie between him and Bonds.

It seems Rodriguez is more focused on the team and the lure of a another championship. That is a good thing, too.

Rodriguez deserves a C for his poor power stats. But he is on a pace to drive in 100 runs and he is hitting above .300 for the Yankees for the first time since he hit .302 in 2008. So a fair grade would be a solid B. I can’t see punishing a player for what he does not do when it what he has done is not all that awful. But I can’t help feel a little cheated after I saw how dominant he was this spring.

So we all will hope for a little more power but accept whatever we get from Rodriguez the rest of the way.

OTHERS

The Yankees began the season with the perfect fill-in for Rodriguez now that age forces the Yankees to rest him more often. Eric Chavez was signed as a free agent and made the team on the basis of a healthy and productive spring training after years of dealing with back and neck injuries with Oakland.

Chavez was hitting a robust .303 and playing Gold Glove quality third base in place of Rodriguez until he fractured his left foot running the bases in Detroit on May 5. He has not made it back since then. During his rehab of his foot, Chavez suffered a back injury and now has an abdominal strain. So, Chavez’s battle with nagging injuries since 2005 continues. The Yankees hope he will return sometime in late July or early August.

In the meantime, the Yankees will use Eduardo Nunez and Ramiro Pena to back up A-Rod. Nunez will play when manager Joe Girardi needs his bat and his speed on the bases. Pena will play here when Girardi is looking for someone to field the position. On the basis of Nunez’s .344 average subbing for Derek Jeter, we will likely see him more than Pena.

In a late-inning pinch, the Yankees can also use Francisco Cervelli or Russell Marrtin here. Neither would get a start here. It would just be a move to shift them here late in games the Yankees are either far ahead or far behind.

At Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes Barre, the Yankees have a good third base prospect in Brandon Laird. Laird, 23, is hitting .268 with nine home runs and 41 RBIs in 82 games. Laird is in his first season at Triple-A and could benefit by more seasoning. But, from a practical standpoint, his path to the majors is blocked by Rodriguez and he is more suited to be included in a trade package down the road.

FIRST HALF GRADES

Rodriguez B

Chavez I (Incomplete)

OVERALL POSITION GRADE: B

Rodriguez was selected by the fans to attend his 14th All-Star Game. For a player who is supposedly hated so much by fans around the league, it is strange how he gets keeps getting elected to the team That says something about the skill of the man. So you would have to say that Rodriguez, minus the power, is still a very productive third baseman. He is among the best in baseball still. But it is not out of the bounds for Yankee fans to wish for more from A-Rod in the second half.

If Rodriguez can get as hot this summer as he did this spring, the league better watch out.

NEXT: SHORTSTOP