Tagged: World Baseball Classic

Keeping Tex Healthy First Priority For Yankees

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

FIRST BASE

Mark Teixeira, 34 (.216,22 HRs, 62 RBIs, 123 games)

There was a time not long ago that Teixeira was considered to be among the best players at his position and he was a feared hitter in the middle of Yankees’ lineup.

But the past three seasons Teixeira has had to deal with a series of injuries that have rendered him ineffective when he did play and unavailable to play for long stretches. He has played in only 138 games in the past two seasons largely because of a wrist injury he suffered in March 2013.

Teixeira was taking batting practice before an exhibition game for Team USA in the World Baseball Classic when he tore the sheath in his right wrist. Rather than surgery on the wrist, Teixeira elected to rehab it and come back to play for the Yankees in May of 2013.

However, after 15 excruciatingly painful games Teixeira had to admit he needed surgery and 2o13 ended up being a lost season after he hit just .151 with three homers and 12 RBIs.

So Teixiera entered 2014 hopeful that after the surgery in July and a chance to heal slowly that he would be back to averaging the 37 homers and 114 RBIs he put up for the Yankees from 2009 to 2012.

After a cautious spring things looked good when Teixiera displayed his old power and he was producing offense for a very weak Yankees’ lineup. There also were some hints along the way that things were still not right with the wrist.

Early in the season he suffered a calf strain that shelved him for two weeks and then there were short stretches where Teixeira had to admit to manager Joe Girardi that he could not play because wrist was sore.

Many MRIs and cortisone shots followed and Teixeira learned from doctors that the wrist surgery was successful and the soreness was normal. But it pained Teixiera that he could not suit up and play. Even more, he also could not produce the power and runs the team needed when it so badly needed it.

Teixeira was not able to generate much for the Yankees in the second half, hitting only five homers after the All-Star break. He also struggled from the right side of the plate, where he managed just four of his 22 home runs.

There also were signs of fatigue from not being able to work out over the winter as he would have liked because of the surgery. He also suffered through a ribcage injury, a left lat strain and an injury to his left pinkie finger.

The problem for Girardi and the Yankees was exacerbated by the fact that the Yankees had precious little power at all and there was no one on the roster who specifically was designated to play first base behind Teixiera in 2014.

As a result, the Yankees were forced to use eight other players when Teixeira was sidelined: Kelly Johnson (23 starts), Brian McCann (11), Chase Headley (6), Francisco Cervelli (5), Scott Sizemore (1) and Carlos Beltran, Brendan Ryan and Austin Romine were moved there during games.

None of these players had any significant experience at the position and it showed.

Teixeira has always been considered among the best fielding first basemen in baseball. He has five Gold Gloves to his credit, including three of them won with the Yankees. But even that skill left Teixeira to some degree last season.

After averaging 4.3 errors a season over 10 seasons in the major leagues, Teixiera committed six in just 116 starts in 2014.

The Yankees do have to be asking themselves if Teixeira is in a permanent decline due to advancing age or can he somehow regain his health enough to produce the 39 homers and 111 RBIs he produced in 156 games in 2011.

The other problem Teixeira has had to face is his sinking batting averages.

From his second season with the Texas Rangers in 2004 through his first season with the Yankees in 2009, Teixiera never hit below .281 while hitting all those home runs and driving in all those runs.

But since 2010 Teixeira has never batted above .256. Teixeira even understood this and tried to correct it in 2012. But he gave up when he realized that he was signed in 2009 by the Yankees to a eight-year, $180 million contract to hit a lot of home runs and drive in a lot of runs no matter where his batting average landed.

So Teixeira continues to take a pull-happy approach and utilize an uppercut swing designed to elevate the ball over the short porch in right-field. That is why he receives a pretty steady diet of breaking pitches and a lot of pitches on the outside corner that are harder for him to pull. Hence, the lower batting averages.

At this point, the Yankees open camp hoping that Teixeira is healthy and the wrist is no longer an issue. After all, both David Ortiz of the Boston Red Sox and Jose Bautista of the Toronto Blue Jays were able to put up great numbers in their second season after similar wrist surgeries. The same should hold for Teixeira.

The Yankees, however, do have a fallback position for Teixeira in 2015 to make up for the grievously stupid mistake they made of not having an experienced backup in 2014.

The Yankees were able to acquire veteran first baseman and outfielder Garrett Jones from the Miami Marlins in December as part of a five-player deal where the Yankees shipped infielder Martin Prado in exchange for right-hander Nathan Eovaldi.

Jones, 33, is a left-handed hitter with power who hit 15 homers and drove in 53 runs in 146 games with the Marlins last season, primarily as their starting first baseman (122 starts).

Much like Teixeira, Jones is not looking to win a batting title. He has averaged .253 in his seven major-league seasons. But he also has hit 117 home runs in that span, including a career-high of 27 for the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2012.

So Jones gives Girardi and the Yankees some flexibility if Teixeira can’t answer the bell for a game or two this season or is simply in need of a day off. Jones’ power also means the Yankees won’t suffer as much of a dropoff without Tex.

It is first time the Yankees have had a creditable backup for Teixeira since the Yankees had outfielder Nick Swisher, who the Yankees allowed to walk as free agent after the 2012 season.

The Yankees attempted to trade for Jones in the past when he was with the Pirates but were not successful. The reason general manager Brian Cashman wanted Jones so badly is because he has a swing tailor-made for Yankee Stadium’s shorter dimensions in right field.

“Obviously, his left-handed bat is made for our ballpark,” Cashman told reporters. “You saw us go through a season last year where we didn’t have a legitimate backup first baseman. Now we do.”

Jones came to the major leagues as an outfielder and he is not considered a skilled fielder at first base. He committed 13 errors there last season. But even with the defensive shortcomings it is good to know he can play the position for significant stretches if he is needed.

Jones’ versatility also makes him a potential backup in right field for Beltran, who also went through a injury-plagued 2014 season that was derailed by a bone spur in his right elbow. Jones has started as many as 78 games in a season in the outfield in his career and Girardi would be comfortable playing him there if he is needed.

In addition, Jones is the odds-on favorite to be the team’s primary designated hitter this season. Because of Jones’ defensive shortcomings he is a natural DH because the Yankees would love to have his power bat available on a team that desperately needs it in 2015.

Behind Jones the Yankees may be doing some experimentation this spring with third baseman Alex Rodriguez.

The 39-year-old veteran might see some work at the position this spring since Headley is projected to start the season as the team’s third baseman. Though Rodriguez did move from shortstop to third base when the Yankees signed him as a free agent in 2004, he has never played a single game at first base in his career.

So it remains to be seen how A-Rod will fare at first base. But his former Rangers teammate Teixeira made the switch in 2003 and became proficient. The jury is out on Rodriguez being able to make the same switch at this advanced stage of his career.

And even should he be successful in making the switch, he will not be playing the position much with Teixeira and Jones ahead of him on the depth chart.

The Yankees also were very pleased with what they saw of McCann in the 11 games he started at first base in 2014. McCann, 31, showed good reflexes and some defensive skill at the position.

However, he would just be an emergency candidate in 2015, although we could see the Yankees eventually shift McCann to the position when Teixeira’s contract expires after the 2016 season.

The Yankees also have a potential replacement for Teixeira in their minor-league system named Greg Bird.

The 22-year-old former high school catcher for Baltimore Orioles right-hander Kevin Gausman in Aurora, CO, has flourished as a hitter ever since he was moved to first base.

Bird, who bats left-handed, hit a combined .271 with 14 home runs and 43 RBIs in 102 games between Class-A Tampa and Double-A Trenton last season.

Bird takes a very patient approach to the plate and he led the minor leagues with 103 walks in 2013. The Yankees believe he has the ability to hit for both power and average at the major-league level.

Bird was the sensation of Arizona Fall League in 2014. He was named the AFL Most Valuable Player representing Scottsdale this winter. The Yankees have issued him a non-roster invite to spring training.

Realistically, Bird has no shot of making the team. But he will get his first chance to see how he measures up against some of the best in the game. He is ticketed for Double-A with a promotion to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre this season possible.

In any event, Bird gives the Yankees a solid young player who could be a productive first baseman at the major-league level.

Kyle Roller, 26, hit .300 with 26 home runs and 74 RBIs in 125 games between Trenton and Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre in 2014. His 26 home runs actually was the not only the best minor-league total, it was also the best in the entire organization.

Unlike Bird, Roller takes more of an all-or-nothing approach to the plate as his 289 strikeouts in his past two minor-league seasons would attest. Though Roller does have very good power from the left side, his path to the majors is blocked.

He also is a non-roster invitee to spring training. He likely will end up at Scranton for another season but could see a temporary call-up should the Yankees need a backup first baseman.

OVERALL POSITION ANALYSIS: GOOD

Because of Teixeira’s declining batting average and injury problems, he is no longer considered among the elite first basemen. Having said that the Yankees still do need a healthy Teixeira in 2015.

They need the more than 30 home runs and 100 RBIs he produced from 2004 to 2011. Only one other first baseman did that for a longer period of time and that was Albert Pujols.

If you throw in Teixiera’s sparkling defense and his ability to save his fellow infielders errors, you have the makings of a quality first baseman. However, Father Time seems to have caught up with Tex.

He begins the spring with a lot to prove this season. The Yankees hope he is up to the challenge. They see him as a player who will fill either the fourth or fifth spot in the batting order so they do have a lot riding on his health.

Having a quality backup like Jones available makes the Yankees feel a whole lot better have the parade of players they out there in 2014. Though his defense is nowhere near that of Teixeira’s, Jones gives the Yankees a productive power bat to deploy at first should Teixeira for some reason be unable to play.

Bird appears to be a potential star in the making if he continues to develop as he has in the minors. It gives the Yankees some hope when the Teixeira era at first base finally ends.

NEXT: SECOND BASE

 

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Starting Spot, Bench, Pen Yankees Only Unknowns

With the first exhibition a day away the New York Yankees pretty much have answered all their roster questions.

By investing $475 million on free agents this winter they have turned a team that was ravaged by injury in 2013 into a possible contender in 2014.

The rotation is almost set with C.C. Sabathia heading up a group that includes a Japanese sensation in Masahiro Tanaka and holdovers Ivan Nova and Hiroki Kuroda.

The starting lineup is set with shortstop Derek Jeter returning from injury along with first baseman Mark Teixeira. Free agents Brian Roberts and Kelly Johnson will primarily play second and third base, respectively. Fellow free agent Brian McCann gives the Yankees the best hitting catcher they have had since Jorge Posada retired.

The outfield was strengthened with the free-agent signings of Jacoby Ellsbury in center and Carlos Beltran in right. Brett Gardner, fresh off signing a new four-year extension, will move back to left and last year’s key acquisition, Alfonso Soriano, will be the primary designated hitter.

The bullpen is pretty set with David Robertson being asked to fill the mighty big cleats of the best closer the game as ever seen in Mariano Rivera.

With him are free agent left-hander Matt Thornton, who will assume the role of the departed Boone Logan. Shawn Kelley will also try to build on what was a fairly good first season with the team.

The Yankees even added to the bullpen with the signing of oft-injured former closer Andrew Bailey, who could easily slip into Robertson’s setup role if he is sound.

The bench already will have backup middle infielder Brendan Ryan and catcher Francisco Cervelli. Ichiro Suzuki, who suddenly became the odd man out of a job with the new outfielders looks to have the backup outfield spot assured unless he is traded.

So there are few jobs left to fill. But here they are and the players who are competing for them:

NO. 5 STARTER

The Candidates: Michael Pineda, David Phelps, Adam Warren and Vidal Nuno.

Pineda, 25, has missed two complete seasons following surgery to repair a torn labrum in his shoulder in 2012. The Yankees hope and Pineda believes it is time for him to resume what was once a promising career. The velocity may not be what it was in his rookie season in 2011 when he was an American League All-Star and he had nine victories, 173 strikeouts and a 3.73 ERA with the Seattle Mariners. But the Yankees hope that his stuff is still effective enough to get out major-league hitters. If Pineda proves that this spring the job is really his. That is why they traded Jesus Montero for him. Now it is time for results.

Phelps, 27, has spent the past two seasons as the Yankees’ long man and spot starter out of the bullpen. He has done the job pretty well. He is 10-9 with 4.11 ERA in 55 games (23 of them starts) the past two seasons. But Phelps had his 2013 season interrupted by a right forearm strain that sidelined him for two months. But he is 100 percent this spring and he will get a chance to win the final spot in the rotation. However, he likely won’t get it if Pineda shines. The reason is that Phelps’ numbers the past two seasons have been better out of the bullpen than as a starter. Phelps actually might move into a short relief role, where he could even end up setting up Robertson at some point. Phelps, barring injury, will leave spring training with a role. The only question is what role.

Warren, 26, surprisingly made the team out of spring training last season and he was the team’s long reliever. Warren also pitched very well. He was 3-2 with a 3.39 ERA in 34 games (two starts). Warren is excellent insurance if Pineda is not ready because Warren is actually better suited as a starter than Phelps. But his value as a long reliever is excellent. So a likely scenario is that Pineda becomes the starter, Warren keeps his long man and spot starting gig and Phelps shifts to the bullpen again. It is hard for Warren not to want to start. Obviously he does. He will get a lot of chances to do it. Do not be surprised if you see very little of Sabathia, Tanaka and Kuroda early this spring. The reason is you will be seeing a lot of these four pitchers instead.

Nuno, 26, won the James P. Dawson Award last spring as the team’s most impressive rookie after going 1-1 with a 0.61 ERA in 14 2/3 innings over seven games. That does not even include the five shutout innings he tossed against the Yankees when he was offered to the Dominican Republic for an exhibition game before the World Baseball Classic. Nuno was sent out to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, where he was 2-0 with a 1.44 ERA in five games before he was summoned to fill a spot in the bullpen. In five games with the Yankees (three of them starts), Nuno was 1-2 with a 2.25 ERA over 20 innings. Nuno subsequently had his season ended by a groin injury. Nuno is the real wildcard in this equation. His fastball barely reaches 88 miles per hour yet he keeps hitters off-balance and doesn’t walk many either. But if Nuno loses out to any of the other three he likely will be returned to Scranton, where he will be available should an injury occur. Nuno is not as experienced pitching out the bullpen and the Yankees prefer he remain stretched out as a starter.

BACKUP INFIELDER

The Candidates: Eduardo Nunez, Dean Anna, Scott Sizemore and Russ Canzler.

Nunez, 26, has had huge opportunities after he batted .265 with 22 steals in 112 games in 2011. In the past two seasons, Nunez has blown those chances. In 2012, his inconsistent fielding got him sent to Scranton and Nunez injured his right hand and missed a huge chunk of the summer. In 2013, the Yankees lost Jeter for most of the season as he battled to get back from a severe ankle injury. Nunez was handed the job early but it went downhill in a hurry after he got injured himself. Nunez hit .260 in 90 games but he did not have that same fire he had in 2011. It was a shame because Nunez worked on a new throwing motion and cut down on his errors. The Yankees sealed Nunez’s fate by deciding to keep Ryan, who can also play second base. That means the only way Nunez can make the team is as a right-handed portion of a platoon with Johnson at third base. This is Nunez’s last shot with the Yankees and he could very well be dealt away before the spring is over.

Anna is a year OLDER than Nunez but has never received a single at-bat in the majors. Yet, Anna chances of making the team may be better than Nunez. Anna was traded to the Yankees by the San Diego Padres in return for right-hander Ben Paulus. The reason Anna is intriguing is that he led the Pacific Coast League in batting in 2o13 with a .331 average with nine homers and 73 RBIs. Anna also bats left-handed and he can play second, third, shortstop and the two corner outfield spots. He lacks speed and range in the field but his fielding is above average. So a good spring could catapult Anna into a backup spot with the Yankees. He could be valuable in that Roberts has spent the past four seasons battling injuries. He also could win the primary starting spot over Johnson at third. The Yankees can’t wait to see what Anna can do this spring.

Sizemore, 29, was a hot minor leaguer like Anna in 2009 when he batted .308 with 17 homers and 66 RBIs at two stops in the Detroit Tigers’ minor-league system. He was handed the starting second base job for the Tigers in 2010 and he promptly handed it back by hitting .224 in 48 games. He did not fare much better by hitting .245 in 110 games for the Tigers in 2011. For the past two seasons Sizemore has had two separate surgeries for a torn ACL in his left knee. He reinjured the ACL just 10 days into the 2013 season with the Oakland Athletics. The Yankees signed him to a minor-league contract with an invitation to spring training. Sizemore is working out with the Yankees but he is not going all-out just yet. Sizemore has hopes of winning a job as a backup at second and third base. As a right-handed hitter, Sizemore could be of use if he could recapture his old form. The odds are not in his favor but Sizemore is not one to give up that easily.

Canzler, 28, is different from the other three because he can play first base. With Teixeira coming off surgery to repair the sheath in his right wrist, having someone on the roster who can first would be a plus. The current depth chart lists Johnson as the backup there but Johnson has started only two games in his career there. That was why the Yankees re-signed Canzler to a minor-league contract after they cut him loose from the 40-man roster when the team signed designated hitter Tracis Hafner last February. Canzler spent the 2013 season at Triple A, first with the Baltimore Orioles and later with the Pittsburgh Pirates. He batted a combined .252 with 12 homers and 62 RBIs in 125 games. Canzler’s real value is that he can play both corner infield and both corner outfield spots. That means if the right-handed slugger is impressive he could end up in a platoon with Johnson at third and back up for Teixiera at first. That is why Canzler bears watching so closely this spring.

FOUR BULLPEN SPOTS

The Candidates: Cesar Cabral, Preston Claiborne, Bailey, Phelps, Warren, Nuno and Dellin Betances

Robertson is a lock at closer. Thornton and Kelly seem to safe as late-inning options. The Yankees are also very high on the first two names on the candidate list, Cabral and Claiborne. Both made their major-league debuts last season and both impressed manager Joe Girardi. Cabral, 25, missed all of the 2012 season and most of 2013 after fracturing his left elbow in his final spring appearance in 2012. The big left-hander is deadly to left-handed hitters and the Yankees covet a specialist as they had in Clay Rapada in 2012. Something they did not have in 2013. That why it is almost certain that Cabral will make the team, barring injury.

Claiborne, 26, did not walk his first major-league batter until his 15th appearance. He also carried a 2.13 ERA into August before he was shuttled from Scranton to New York five times. His control left him and he got shelled hard in his final 11 games. But the Yankees think very highly of Claiborne. With Logan and Joba Chamberlain gone, the Yankees have a need for Claiborne in their bullpen. Girardi only wants to see the youngster attacking the strike zone consistently this spring to add him to the roster.

Bailey, 29, is the former closer for the A’s and the Boston Red Sox. However, a series of injuries have derailed his once-promising career. After saving 75 games for the A’s from 2009 through 2011, Bailey was acquired by the Red Sox but he endured an injury-plagued 2012 season, pitching in only 19 games and recording a 7.04 ERA. He began 2013 well but ended up having right shoulder surgery in July. The Bosox opted to cut him from the roster by not tendering him a contract. He will not be ready to pitch to start the season. But the Yankees are hoping he may be able to bolster the bullpen later. If he comes back healthy he could very well become the team’s setup man.

The other two bullpen spots likely will go to the losers of the No. 5 starter competition – with the exception of Pineda. If Pineda is not ready to pitch in the majors the Yankees likely will keep him for some while in extended spring training in Tampa, FL. They then would ship him to some rehab assignments before they choose to bring him up later in the season.

That leaves Phelps, Warren and Nuno to fight for the last two spots in addition to a former top-rated starting prospect in Dellin Betances. Betances, 25, was shifted into a bullpen role last season after he struggled with his command as a starter. The result is that Betances is on the verge of becoming a dominant relief pitcher with much better control. He made his major-league debut in September after posting a 6-4 record and a 2.68 ERA with five saves at Scranton. Betances struck out 108 while walking 42 over 84 innings in 38 (six starts) games . Betances looks to be a budding future closer candidate and the Yankees could have him up sometime in 2014 if he does not make the team this spring.

 

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.

 

Hughes Gets Run Support As Yanks Spank Twins

GAME 83

YANKEES 7, TWINS 3

With his job as a starter on the line in his last outing, Phil Hughes gave up just two runs in eight strong innings against the Texas Rangers and was “rewarded” with a loss because the Yankees managed just two singles in nine innings to Derek Holland.

On Tuesday, Hughes yielded just a run in seven strong innings but he finally got the run support he needed to win his first game since June 6.

Robinson Cano hit his fourth home run in his past four games  –  a three-run shot in the seventh inning  –  and Alberto Gonzalez drove in his first three runs as a Yankee to back Hughes’ strong outing as New York continued its uncanny mastery over Minnesota in front of a paid crowd of 29,019 at Target Field.

Hughes (4-7) was only touched for a run in the bottom of the third inning on a leadoff double by Aaron Hicks and a two-out RBI single by Joe Mauer.

He gave up six hits and two walks while he struck out three as he won his first game in four starts since he defeated the Seattle Mariners at Safeco Field just less than a month ago.

The key inning for Hughes was the bottom of the fourth when Trevor Plouffe drew a leadoff walk and Oswaldo Arcia laced an opposite-field double to left. Hughes responded by fanning both Chris Parmelee and Hicks looking and retired Pedro Florimon on a routine groundout to escape the jam.

Meanwhile, the Yankees finally solved right-hander Samuel Deduno in the fifth inning after managing just one hit and a walk and being retired on 10 groundouts over the first four frames.

Lyle Overbay led off with a swinging bunt single and David Adams followed one out later with a single up the middle. Gonzalez, who was 0-for-13 since he was recalled from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre on June 26, delivered an opposite-field double down the right-field line to score Overbay and Adams.

After Gonzalez advanced to third on a groundout off the bat of Brett Gardner, Ichiro Suzuki rolled a dribbler down the first-base line that Deduno was unable to field that was scored as a single that allowed Gonzalez to make it 4-1.

Deduno (4-3) left after having given up three runs on five hits and one walk while striking out one in five innings.

But just as the Yankees were able to score seven runs off the Twins’ bullpen on Monday, they added four runs off their relievers on Tuesday.

Adams, who had been mired in a dreadful slump since May 20, collected his second hit of the game with a one-out double off right-hander Anthony Swarzak that the right-fielder Parmelee misplayed to allow him to reach third. Gonzalez then slapped a opposite-field roller into right-field that scored Adams.

Suzuki then added a two-out single into left-field that tipped off the glove of the shortstop Florimon and Cano then launched an 0-1 fastball deep into the upper deck in right-field for his 20th home run of the season.

The Twins added a pair of runs off reliever Preston Claiborne in the ninth inning on a two-out, two-run double by Brian Dozier before Mariano Rivera came on with two on and two out to retire Ryan Doumit on a groundout to earn his 27th save in 28 chances this season.

The victory improved the Yankees’ season ledger to 44-39 and they were able to remain six games behind the first-place Boston Red Sox in fourth place in the American League East. The Twins dropped to 36-44.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Cano has stopped swinging at pitches out the strike zone and it has paid off in that in his past five games he is 12-for-21 (.571) with four homers and eight RBIs. Cano now holds the team’s Triple Crown, leading the team in average (.295), home runs (20) and RBIs (54). His resurgence also has helped the Yankees score 17 runs in the past two games after scoring just 13 in losing their previous five games.
  • Gonzalez and Adams finally came through for the Yankees in a big way in the No. 8 and No. 9 spots in the order, which have been unproductive all season. The pair combined to go 4-for-8, scored four runs and drove in three. Gonzalez also contributed with his glove by making a sensational diving catch in shallow left to rob Mauer of a base-hit in the fifth inning.
  • Hughes has now put together two very good starts and he seems to have put aside any talk of shifting him to the bullpen for now. Hughes has given up just three runs on 11 hits and three walks while striking out eight batters in 15 innings. That is an ERA of 1.80, which has lowered his season ERA to 4.55.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • Travis Hafner was 0-for-4 with a strikeout and he is struggling to produce anything behind Cano in the cleanup spot. Hafner hit .318 with six home runs and 17 RBIs in April. Since then he is hitting .174 with six home runs and 19 RBIs. It is beginning to look as if the 36-year-old designated hitter may not even get close to his career average of .275. He is hitting an anemic .219.
  • Chris Stewart was 0-for-4 in the game as his slide at the plate continues. Stewart was hitting .284 on June 11 but is just 9-for-45 (.200) since then, which has dropped his season average to .245. Because Austin Romine is hitting only .145 the Yankees could sure use a return from starting catcher Francisco Cervelli, who was hitting .269 when he broke his right hand on June 26.
  • It may seem like Claiborne pitched poorly in allowing two runs on three hits in the ninth inning but it actually was manager Joe Girardi’s fault for using him in the ninth after he had pitched the eighth. Claiborne three 30 pitches in the ninth and simply wore down because he is more of a one-inning pitcher like David Robertson.

BOMBER BANTER

First baseman Mark Teixeira had the tendon sheath in his right wrist repaired successfully on Tuesday at New York University Hospital and he is expected to be ready for spring training. Teixeira, 33, played in only 15 games this season, hitting .151 with three homers and 12 RBIs. Teixeira originally injured his wrist in March preparing to play in the World Baseball Classic.  . . .  Third baseman Alex Rodriguez made his long-awaited debut in a rehab game on Tuesday with Class-A Charleston (SC) and he went 0-for-2 and played three innings at third base. Rodriguez is on a 20-day assignment as part of his rehab from left hip surgery in January. He could return to the Yankees on July 22 at the latest.  . . .  Gonzalez subbed at shortstop for Jayson Nix, who was held out of Tuesday’s game with a sore right hamstring. Nix, 30, strained his hamstring legging out a double in Monday’s game and is listed as day-to-day.  . . .  Right-hander Hiroki Kuroda flew back to New York on Tuesday to have an MRI performed on his left hip flexor. The MRI was negative but Kuroda’s spot in the rotation will be filled by right-hander Ivan Nova on Friday against the Baltimore Orioles at Yankee Stadium.

ON DECK

The Yankees can clinch the four-game series against Minnesota with a victory as the series continues on Wednesday.

Left-hander CC Sabathia (8-6, 4.15 ERA) will start for the Yankees. Sabathia was sailing along in his start on Friday until the Orioles scored four runs late to hang him with a loss after he held a 3-0 lead entering the sixth and he was pitching a no-hitter. Sabathia has dominated the Twins in his career. He is 16-8 with 2.97 ERA.

The Twins will counter with rookie right-hander P.J. Walters (2-4, 6.03 ERA). Walters coughed up six runs on six hits and a walk in only three innings in his shortest start of the season against the Kansas City Royals on Friday. He has never faced the Yankees.

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

 

Yankees’ Myriad Injuries Defy All Logic Or Reason

Because of the spate of injuries the New York Yankees have incurred over the past two seasons there has been a suggestion that the team’s iconic logo should be changed to a Red Cross symbol to replace the “Y” laid over a pair of crutches and a Band-Aid to form the “N.” Most fans know about the injuries to Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter and Mark Teixeira. But there are some injuries which many fans are not aware to lesser players. Let’s look at all of the injuries, when they might return and what impact they could make upon their return.

ALEX RODRIGUEZ

As most fans know, Alex Rodriguez had surgery to repair a congenital defect in his left hip in January. There has been some question as to why he waited until January to have this surgery. The answer is because the doctor who was performing the surgery believed A-Rod could cut the rehabilitation time by doing exercises prior to the surgery. The surgery was pronounced successful and Rodriguez, 37, is expected to return sometime after the All-Star break. There has not been any word from the Yankees extending that time frame. However, Rodriguez is facing potential accusations surrounding the Miami clinic Biogenesis, which Major League Baseball believes was distributing performance enhancing drugs to players. Rodriguez’s name surfaced in an examination of the clinic’s documents and there have been allegations representatives attempted to purchase the documents on the All-Star third baseman’s behalf. The surgery on Rodriguez was a major reason why the Yankees elected to sign Kevin Youkilis to a free-agent contract this winter. Youkilis now is an insurance policy in case A-Rod either can’t come back from his surgery or is suspended by MLB. Rodriguez was back on the field in Tampa, FL, for the first time on Monday. He ran sprints, played catch and hit off a batting tee. If MLB does decide to suspend Rodriguez it likely will come just before he is activated because they don’t want Rodriguez to cheat the suspension by spending part of it rehabbing from his surgery.

DEREK JETER

Much like Ryan Howard of the Philadelphia Phillies in 2011, Jeter, 38, suffered a major injury during the playoffs in 2012, fracturing a left ankle that he had hobbling upon for a month prior. Jeter had surgery to repair the ankle and he vowed to return by Opening Day on April 1. The Yankees held him out of early exhibition games and allowed him to play at first as the designated hitter on May 10. However, it was clear that though Jeter was able to hit as he always has, he still was unable to run at full speed. It became inevitable that when Jeter was shut down because of recurring soreness that something was  –  if you pardon the pun  –  afoot. A trip back to Charlotte, N.C., in April to the doctor who performed his surgery led to a new X-ray that showed a tiny break near the spot of the original fracture. Jeter is now in a removable walking boot. He will be able to work out without the boot but the timetable for his return has been shifted back to mid-July. He should be able to return to full workouts when the boot is removed within a month. Jeter vows he will play this season and there does not seem to be any reason to discount it. The only real concern is will he be able to display enough range to play shortstop on a daily basis. The Yankees, in the interim, have Eduardo Nunez and Jayson Nix to play the position. But Nunez has already been shelved twice for two games after being hit by pitches and is currently day-to-day with tightness in his right rib cage. If Nunez is placed on the disabled list, Nix would have to play short and the only available shortstop at Triple-A Scranton is Addison Marausak. The Yankees might be forced to make a trade for another shortstop, preferably someone who could start at the position ahead of Nix.

MARK TEIXEIRA

Teixeira, 33, accepted an invitation this spring to play first base for Team USA in the World Baseball Classic. He was taking batting practice prior to exhibition game against the Chicago White Sox in Glendale, AZ, when he felt pain in his right wrist. Tests indicated he sustained a partially torn sheath in the wrist, an injury similar to the one suffered by Toronto Blue Jays outfielder Jose Bautista last season, which eventually required surgery after a failed comeback. The Yankees believe Teixeira will be able to avoid surgery because it is partial tear and they are lengthening his rehab from their original timetable of 8-to-10 weeks. Teixeira has had the brace from his wrist removed and he hoped to be cleared to take swings in time to return by May 1. However, his doctor withheld clearance for an additional two weeks. Teixiera is in Tampa, FL, taking “tee and toss” swings and he soon hopes to progress to begin taking swings off live pitching in a batting cage. His target date for his return is now closer to June 1. In his absence the Yankees had hoped to use lefty-swinging Lyle Overbay and righty-swinging Youkilis in a platoon. However, a lower back sprain landed Youkilis on the 15-day disabled list so the Yankees are using Overbay full-time and exposing his weakness against left-handers. But they are hoping to have Youkilis back in the lineup soon.

CURTIS GRANDERSON

Granderson, 32, was playing in his first exhibition game of the season on Feb. 24 when Blue Jays left-hander J.A. Happ hit him in the lower right forearm with his first pitch. Granderson left the game and underwent X-rays that indicated he suffered a fractured right forearm and would miss eight weeks. Though the injury was a major blow to the Yankees, of all the injuries the team has suffered, this one the Yankees felt sure about Granderson’s ability to return because bones do heal eventually. Granderson targeted May 1 for his return but that timetable was adjusted two weeks because Granderson missed all of spring training. So the Yankees have him hitting against live pitching at their complex in Tampa. In fact, Granderson was struck on the left tricep by a pitch on Saturday. But it was termed not serious and Granderson remains on track to return to the active roster in a couple of weeks. The Yankees obtained veteran outfielder Vernon Wells to play in left for Granderson and Wells is hitting .280 with six home runs and 13 RBIs in the middle of the lineup. That has forced manager Joe Girardi to shift his thinking of how to use Wells when Granderson returns. Wells obviously could be a right-handed DH but those at-bats would be limited because there are so few left-handed starters. So Girardi is considering rotating some rest for his lefty-swinging outfielders (Granderson, Brett Gardner and Ichiro Suzuki) in order to keep Wells’ bat in the lineup more often.

KEVIN YOUKILIS

Two things were apparent when the Yankees signed Youkilis to a free-agent contract this winter. One was that with Rodriguez injured someone had to play the position for a long period of time. Perhaps the player might have to play there the entire season. The second thing was the Yankees were taking a risk on the 33-year-old Youkilis, who had his past two seasons ruined by injuries to his groin and his back. Because Youkilis was versatile enough to play third and first base he also became the player the Yankees could LEAST afford to lose. That scenario played out when Youkilis was removed in the sixth inning of a game on April 20 against the Blue Jays with stiffness in his lower back. The Yankees held him out of competition for six games when Youkilis assured them he was fine. He started a game on April 27 at Yankee Stadium against the Blue Jays. However, CC Sabathia slipped off the mound on a ground ball off the bat of Melky Cabrera in the third inning. Youkilis was forced to slide hard to beat the speedy Cabrera to the base. Youkilis made it but re-aggravated his back injury and had to be placed on the disabled list on April 28. Youkilis was administered an epidural pain-killing injection and he claims he already is feeling better. However, the Yankees are angry Youkilis “talked” them into believing he was fine. They could have backdated his DL stint April 21 and he would have been able to play on May 7. Now he will be able to be activated on May 13 at the earliest. The Yankees are going to make darn sure he is really 100 percent before they activate him. In his absence the Yankees have used Nix at third base and traded to obtain Chris Nelson from the Colorado Rockies. Nix, however, has not contributed much offensively (.227 batting average with a home run and six RBIs) and on Sunday Nix was 0-for-4 with two strikeouts and two weak infield popups and he stranded seven base-runners in 5-4 loss to the Oakland Athletics. Nelson has played in two games and is 0-for-7 with three strikeouts.

FRANCISCO CERVELLI

With the departure of free-agent catcher Russell Martin, the Yankees opened up the catching competition this spring to Cervelli, backup catcher Chris Stewart and rookie Austin Romine. But Cervelli, who was shipped to Triple A on the last day of spring training to make room for Stewart in 2012, was determined to prove to the Yankees he belonged in the major leagues. Cervelli, 27, reneged on his commitment to play for Italy in the WBC so he could concentrate on winning the starting catching job. Though Girardi left spring camp without naming a starter, Cervelli quickly won the job by playing good defense, throwing well and surprisingly he was even contributing offensively. Cervelli was hitting .269 with three home runs and eight RBIs when he was struck on the right hand by a foul tip off the bat of Rajai Davis leading off a game on April 26 against the Blue Jays. Cervelli sustained a fractured hand and had to undergo surgery to repair the hand the next day. He will be in a cast for more than a month and he was placed on the 60-day disabled list. He is expected back sometime after the All-Star break. To Yankee fans Cervelli getting injured should not be a total shock. Bad luck and injuries have hovered over Cervelli like a dark cloud. In spring training in 2009, Cervelli had his wrist broken in a home-plate collision with Elliot Johnson of the Tampa Bay Rays. In spring training in 2010, Cervelli fouled a ball off his foot and missed the most of the first month of the season. In spring training of 2011, Cervelli was hit in the helmet with a pitch and missed time with a concussion and had to wear a special batting helmet upon his return. In September of that season, Cervelli suffered another concussion, the third of his professional career, when he was involved in a home-plate collision with Nick Markakis of the Baltimore Orioles. He was unable to play for the rest of the season and missed the playoffs. In his place, Stewart is now the starter. Stewart is hitting .256 with two home runs and four RBIs but he is definite step down offensively from Cervelli. Romine was recalled from Scranton to be the backup catcher. Romine’s defense is excellent but his bat is major question mark. Romine also has had his development derailed by a recurring back problem. Stewart is a fabulous defensive catcher but the offense will definitely suffer until Cervelli returns in July.

JOBA CHAMBERLAIN

Chamberlain, 27, returned to the Yankees last season because he missed most of 2011 after undergoing Tommy John surgery and freakishly breaking his ankle in a spring training trampoline accident. He pitched in 22 games and was 1-0 with a 4.35 ERA in 20 2/3 innings. With Rafael Soriano gone via free agency, much was expected of Chamberlain this season. He was 0-0 with a 3.86 ERA in 9 1/3 innings over 10 appearances when he was placed on the 15-day disabled list with a right oblique strain last Thursday. Oblique strains are tricky. He might be back in two weeks but he may miss a month. Either way it shortens the Yankees bullpen considerably. The Yankees recalled 25-year-old right-hander Preston Claiborne to replace him. Claiborne pitched two perfect innings of relief in the Yankees’ 5-4 loss to the A’s on Sunday. Claiborne is perhaps the best of the young relievers the Yankees have been developing within their system. He is going to have a chance to prove his 95-mile-per-hour fastball can hold up against major-league hitters. With Chamberlain a potential free agent after the season, Claiborne has a perfect opportunity to make his future mark in the Yankees’ bullpen with this recall.

IVAN NOVA

Nova, 26, is your typical enigma. After a sensational rookie season in which he was 16-4 with a 3.70 ERA in 2011, Nova fell into the deep end of the pool by going 12-8 with 5.02 ERA last season. This spring Nova was put into a competition for the fifth spot in the rotation with David Phelps. Phelps was 3-3 with a 4.18 ERA in seven starts while Nova was 1-0 with a 4.19 ERA in five starts. Girardi elected to keep Nova as his fifth starter and keep Phelps in the bullpen role he filled last season. Nova was not impressive in any of his four starts. He was 1-1 with a 6.48 ERA when he was pulled from his last start in the third inning of a game against the Blue Jays with what originally was termed a sore elbow. But tests after the game showed a right triceps strain and Nova was placed on the 15-day DL. Nova’s injury could be two weeks but it could turn out to be much longer. In the interim, the Yankees shifted Phelps into the starting rotation to replace Nova and recalled 25-year-old left-hander Vidal Nuno from Scranton to fill Phelps’ role in the bullpen. Phelps gave up four runs on eight hits, a walk and hit two batters in 5 2/3 innings against the Houston Astros on May 1. Nuno pitched three scoreless innings and gave up three hits in his only outing on April 29 against the Astros. Phelps got better as the season progressed in 2012 so there is no doubt he will pitch better. Nuno was sensational this spring, winning the James P. Dawson Award as the team’s top rookie. He just needs chances to prove he can pitch well in the majors. The Yankees actually may be better off without Nova until he conquers his command issues.

MICHAEL PINEDA

It is almost like Pineda is the forgotten Yankee. After all, he has never worn pinstripes in a major-league game even though he has been a member of the team for two seasons. He was acquired in the 2012 offseason in a trade with the Seattle Mariners for Yankee mega-prospect Jesus Montero. He showed up at training camp 20 pounds overweight and he proceeded to throw some horrible spring training games culminating with a terrible beating at the hands of the Phillies in his final spring tuneup. It turned out Pineda, 24, was pitching with some right shoulder pain and he did not bother to mention it until after that game. Pineda underwent tests that showed he had a torn labrum and the surgery would mean he would need at least a year to recover. Pineda was one of the most impressive young rookie pitchers in 2011 when he made the American League All-Star team. But the Mariners as a team and Pineda had a horrible second half and Pineda finished with a 9-10 record and a 3.74 ERA. There were whispers about Pineda losing velocity in the second half but the Yankees made the trade for the right-hander just the same. Now they are hoping he will be able to make it back to the big leagues this season. He has been rehabbing at the team’s complex in Tampa and reports indicate he has been hitting 95 mph on the radar gun. However, the hope is that Pineda might be ready to start pitching in games in June. The question is will those games be with the Yankees or with a minor-league team. It is looking more likely Pineda will pitch in the minors until he indicates he is ready to pitch in the majors. It is unclear when that will be.

CESAR CABRAL

Even more obscure than Pineda is Cabral. The 24-year-old left-handed reliever was a Rule V selection for the Yankees by the Kansas City Royals from the Boston Red Sox in the winter of 2012. Cabral had racked up some impressive numbers with two Red Sox minor-league teams but was left off their 40-man roster. With those two teams Cabral was 3-4 with a 2.95 ERA and racked up 70 strikeouts in only 55 innings. The Yankees saw him as a potential second left-hander to Boone Logan in the bullpen and Cabral battled fellow lefty Clay Rapada all through spring training until Cabral sustained a fractured left elbow in what would have been his final appearance. Cabral has not pitched in a game since and the Yankees are hoping that he can begin throwing this month in a rehab stint that might lead to him being available to pitch in the majors. They hope that could mean he could pitch for them this season. But until Cabral begins throwing it is unclear if he will be able to help and when.

That said, it leads us to some injuries the Yankees have suffered that are actually under the radar. They are not part of the 10 players the Yankees have listed on the disabled list but they actually are important injuries that are having an effect on the current roster. Here they are:

CLAY RAPADA

Rapada, 32, benefitted from Cabral’s injury but he likely would have won the job anyway. He also did a great job as the lefty specialist in Girardi’s bullpen last season, recording a 3-0 record and 2.82 ERA while keeping lefties to a low .100 batting average. Rapada likely would have kept his job this season if he did not come down with bursitis in his left shoulder that prevented from pitching this spring. The Yankees designated him for assignment to clear a spot on the 40-man roster but they were able to sign him to a minor-league contract and they have him pitching at Scranton. Rapada has pitched just one inning of one game but there is hope that he might be able to return to the Yankees sometime soon this season because the Yankees have a starting pitcher in Nuno along with Logan in the bullpen. Neither Nuno or Logan are really lefty specialists like Rapada. There is a good possibility that Rapada will be back with the Yankees real soon if he has overcome the bursitis.

RONNIER MUSTELIER

Mustelier, 28, is the Cuban defector who turned heads all spring with his hitting. The corner outfielder even was utilized late in the spring at third base and actually had a good shot to make the team. That was until he ran smack into a camera well along the third base line chasing a foul popup in the fourth inning of a game in Tampa against the Miami Marlins on March 15. Mustelier suffered multiple bone bruises to both legs and his shot of making the team was over. In fact, Mustelier only recently recovered enough to be able to start playing at Scranton. He is hitting .231 with a home run and one RBI in five games. Mustelier still has a great shot of being able to help the Yankees at some point this season. He bats right-handed and can play the outfield and third base. In fact, if the Yankees had a healthy Mustelier when Youkilis injured his back, he would have been the player the team recalled from Triple A instead of Corban Joseph or would have not forced the team’s decision to trade for Nelson.

MANNY BANUELOS

Banuelos, 22, remains as the team’s top pitching prospect despite the fact he has not pitched since the early stages of the 2012 season. Banuelos came up with a sore elbow last season and later tests showed ligament damage that required Tommy John surgery. So Banuelos will miss all of the 2013 season with hopes of being able to compete for a roster spot with the Yankees in spring training in 2014. After impressing the Yankees with a fine 2011 season in which he was 4-5 with a 3.59 ERA at Double-A Trenton the Yankees wanted to see him pitch in the spring in 2012. His combination of a plus fastball and devastating change-up had them salivating at the prospect of him in the majors. But Banuelos took a detour on his control in 2012 and the balky elbow might have been the cause. With veteran starters Hiroki Kuroda and Andy Pettitte on one-year contracts and Phil Hughes eligible for free agency, Banuelos’ recovery could be important to their prospects in 2104.

 

Beating Nationals Boosts Yankees’ Hopes For 2013

GAME 33

YANKEES 4, NATIONALS 2

For nearly three hours on Friday Yankee fans saw their injury-riddled heroes play an exhibition game against a team that some believe might win the world championship in 2013 and what they learned is that this Yankee team just might measure up.

Andy Pettitte threw six strong innings, Kevin Youkilis homered and Mariano Rivera recorded the last three outs as New York defeated a powerful Washington team in front of a paid crowd of 38,161 at Nationals Park in Washington, D.C.

Pettitte (2-0) was touched for two runs (one earned) on five hits and no walks while he struck out six batters.

Meanwhile the Yankees scored all of their four runs in the fourth inning off Nationals right-hander Jordan Zimmermann (1-2).

Youkilis opened the frame with his sixth home run of the exhibition season. Travis Hafner followed with single and Vernon Wells doubled to left-center to move Hafner to third. One out later, Eduardo Nunez laced a two-run single.

The Yankees then added a run on a base-running mistake by Chris Stewart. The veteran catcher singled sharply to right, rounded first base too far and was caught in a rundown as Nunez reached third. When Nunez broke for home, Nationals second baseman Danny Espinosa threw home to catcher Wilson Ramos. But the throw was too late and bounced off Ramos’ glove as Nunez scored.

The Nationals scored an unearned run in the bottom of the fourth when Youkilis committed a two-base throwing error on a ground ball off the bat of Ryan Zimmerman. One out later, Ian Desmond drove in Zimmerman on a single to center-field.

They added a run in the sixth when Zimmerman slapped a two-out double down the left-field line and Adam LaRoche slapped an RBI single to center.

Rivera, 43, followed Joba Chamberlain and David Robertson to the mound in the ninth and he needed only 10 pitches to dispatch the Nationals for his first spring save.

The Yankees exhibition season record improved to 14-18. The Nationals ended the season with the same mark.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Pettitte, 40, was masterful and totally in command throughout his six innings of work. What is more impressive was it came against what largely was the Nationals 2013 starting lineup and they led the majors last season with 98 victories. Anyone still want to make a case that Pettitte and the rest of  the Yankee starting rotation is too old and battered to be effective?
  • Nunez, 25, shone like a bright diamond in this game. Batting eighth, Nunez was 2-for-3 with a stolen base and two RBIs. His two-run single in the fourth proved to be game-winning hit. Though the Yankees seem to be at a disadvantage without their starting shortstop and captain, Derek Jeter, Nunez is proving to be capable replacement. He hit .293 on the spring and he looked much better in the field.
  • Teams can’t win division championships or go far in the playoffs without an excellent bullpen. The Yankees’ bullpen on Friday looked to be formidable with Chamberlain, Robertson and Rivera not surrendering a hit or walk in the final three innings.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • Sloppy defense has been a problem for the Yankees all spring. Youkilis’ throwing error in the fourth cost the Yankees a run and was his fourth error of the spring, all of them coming at third base. I have said this before and it bears repeating: Youkilis is more skilled at first base than he is at third. 
  • Lyle Overbay made the team after a short three-day audition but he was not so helpful at the plate in this game. He was 0-for-4 with two strikeouts and he did not get a ball out of the infield. Overbay did, however, have a pretty good game in the field. Though Overbay is not in Mark Teixeira’s class as a fielder, he is above average.
  • Ichiro Suzuki’s slump at the tail-end of the spring continues. He was 0-for-4 and grounded out weakly all four times. Suzuki’s spring batting average has fallen from a high of .462 on March 13 to .286. Over that span, Suzuki was 6-for-30 (.200). I don’t think fans have to worry about him too much. He is a career .322 hitter after all.

BOMBER BANTER

Teixeira, who is rehabbing a torn tendon sheath in his right wrist, told reporters on Friday that he is determined to return to the Yankees by early May. Teixeira was expected to miss eight to 10 weeks after he sustained the injury preparing for the World Baseball Classic in March. But Teixeira said he hopes to be back closer to eight weeks.  . . .  The Yankees officially confirmed on Friday that Overbay made the 25-man roster. In addition, veteran reliever David Aardsma was designated for assignment and right-hander Shawn Kelley was chosen to round out the bullpen.

PROJECTED 2013 YANKEE LINEUP (Not including players currently on the disabled list)

AGAINST RIGHT-HANDERS

  1. Brett Gardner CF
  2. Ichiro Suzuki RF
  3. Robinson Cano 2B
  4. Kevin Youkilis 3B
  5. Travis Hafner DH
  6. Vernon Wells LF
  7. Lyle Overbay 1B
  8. Eduardo Nunez SS
  9. Chris Stewart/Francisco Cervelli C

AGAINST LEFT-HANDERS

  1. Brett Gardner CF
  2. Ichiro Suzuki RF
  3. Robinson Cano 2B
  4. Kevin Youkilis 1B
  5. Vernon Wells LF
  6. Ben Francisco DH
  7. Eduardo Nunez SS
  8. Jayson Nix 3B
  9. Chris Stewart/Francisco Cervelli C

ON DECK

The Yankees will travel to West Point, NY, on Saturday as the team will end its exhibition schedule with a game against the Black Knights of Army.

Right-hander Adam Warren will start for the Yankees. Warren will open the 2013 season at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.

Game-time will be at 2 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast by the YES Network.

 

Yankees Break Out Of Doldrums To Overtake Twins

GAME 27

YANKEES 9, TWINS 7

As the old saying goes, what a difference a day makes. After managing just one hit at home on Thursday against the Twins the Yankees finally found their way to the bat rack on the road in Fort Myers, FL, and got a measure of payback on Friday.

Robinson Cano drove home two runs and Ben Francisco broke a 5-5 tie in the eighth inning with an RBI single as New York collected 14 hits to down Minnesota in front of a record paid crowd of 8,366 at Ed Hammond Stadium.

Cano, playing in just his second game back with the Yankees after returning as the Most Valuable Player for the World Baseball Classic champion Dominican Republic team, was the designated hitter and was 1-for-2 with an RBI double and a sacrifice fly.

Francisco’s RBI single off Tyler Robertson (0-2) in the eighth came as part of a four-run inning that put the game out of reach.

Ivan Nova started for the Yankees and surrendered five runs (four earned) on seven hits and a walk over 5 1/3 innings. Justin Morneau and Ryan Doumit hit back-to-back home runs off Nova as part of three-run second inning.

Jim Miller gave up no runs on one hit and a walk in 1 1/3 innings to earn credit for the victory. Despite giving up a solo home run to Dan Rohlfing in the ninth inning, Kelvin Perez was credited with a save.

The Yankees’ Grapefruit League ledger is now at 11-16. The Twins are 12-13.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Having a red-hot and contract-driven Cano back in the lineup is already paying big dividends for the Yankees. With all the losses to free agency and injury, Cano remains the biggest and best threat the Yankees have. Along with winning the MVP in the WBC, Cano is hitting a torrid .318 for the Yankees this spring. This could be the year he breaks out in a big, big way.
  • Very quietly Francisco is having a big spring. He was hitting .333 for the Cleveland Indians when he arrived and he is continuing to hit well for the Yankees. With Juan Rivera seemingly a lock to play first in the absence of Mark Teixeira, Francisco figures to make the team as part of a platoon with the lefty-swinging Brennan Boesch in a corner outfield spot.
  • Ronnier Mustelier is also knocking on the door to make the team as a third baseman and outfielder. Mustelier, 28, was 3-for-4 including a two-run double in the the Yankees’ four-run eighth inning. The Cuban defector is hitting ,313 on the spring after he hit a combined .314 with 15 home runs and 69 RBIs at two minor-league stops last season.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • It just seems the Yankees get good pitching when they don’t score runs and when they do score runs they don’t get good pitching. This one of those days they scored and could not shut the other team down. The Yankees relinquished 2-0, 4-3 and 5-4 leads before scoring four runs in the eighth and then later gave up single runs in the eighth and ninth. This is perhaps a byproduct of the fact that Mariano Rivera, David Robertson, Cody Eppley and Joba Chamberlain rarely pitch on the road and Boone Logan is just back from a sore elbow. 
  • Nova struggled for the second straight outing. In his last two starts, Nova has given up nine runs (eight earned) on 13 hits and two walks in 10 1/3 innings. Both David Phelps and Nova have struggled of late and they remain pretty even in their battle for the fifth starter’s spot.
  • Sloppy fielding continues to plague the Yankees this spring. The team committed three errors and they all had some impact on the score. Melky Mesa bobbled a single off the bat of Wilkin Ramirez in the second that led to a run scoring later the inning. In addition, after Nova fielded a ball of the bat of Ray Olmedo in the fourth, he looked back Doumit at third and threw to Rivera at first for the second out. However, Doumit broke for home and Rivera air-mailed the throw over Chris Stewart’s head to allow Doumit to score. In the eighth, Dan Johnson misplayed a routine throw to first that later allowed another unearned run to score.

BOMBER BANTER

Derek Jeter tested his inflamed left ankle at a workout at George M. Steinbrenner Field on Friday and said that if it were up to him he would playing now. Jeter took ground balls and participated in batting practice with no issues with the ankle other than some mild soreness. The Yankees announced a day earlier that Jeter would not play in any more Grapefruit League games in order to preserve the team’s ability to backdate his stint on the disabled list so he could return as early as April 6, if it were necessary. The Yankees still believe Jeter can open the season with the team on April 1.  . . .  Of course, it is not Yankees camp without another injury. Boesch rode the team bus to Fort Myers but had to be scratched from the game with a sore left ribcage. Manager Joe Girardi said Boesch likely will not play again until Tuesday.  . . .  In more injury news, left-handed relief specialist Clay Rapada likely will begin the season on the 15-day disabled list with bursitis in his left shoulder. Rapada, 32, did throw 15 fastballs from a mound on Friday but he still says he will need to be able to pitch effectively for several days in a row to help the team. Rapada says he is close to being ready but it will not be at the start of the season.  . . . Meanwhile fellow walking wounded right-hander Phil Hughes allowed three runs (two earned) on six hits over three innings against the Pittsburgh Pirates’ Class-A West Virginia club on Friday. Hughes was not sharp in his 57-pitch outing but he said he was just glad to be back on the mound after missing most of the spring with a bulging disk in his upper back. It seems likely Hughes will open the season on the disabled list and he will miss at least one start.  . . .  Jon Heyman reported on Friday that the Yankees have agreed to terms on a minor-league contract with former Yankees starter Chien-Ming Wang. The 32-year-old right-hander, won 55 games in four seasons with the Yankees before a series of foot and shoulder injuries derailed his career. He was 6-6 with a 4.94 ERA in 21 games with the Washington Nationals last season. Wang drew interest from major-league teams after he threw 12 shutout innings in two starts for the Chinese Taipei team in the WBC.

ON DECK

The Yankees will travel to Lakeland, FL, on Saturday to play the Detroit Tigers.

Left-hander Andy Pettitte will make his second start of the spring for the Yankees. The Tigers will counter right-hander Anibal Sanchez.

Game-time will be 1:05 p.m. EDT and the game will not be telecast.