YANKEES 8, RED SOX 5
If ever there was a time to showcase your superiority over a hated rival and expose their weaknesses for the rest of the baseball world to see it would be on Sunday Night Baseball on ESPN in front of a national television audience. That is exactly what the Yankees did to the Red Sox at Fenway Park on Sunday.
Brett Gardner hit a three-run homer, Mark Teixeira blasted a two-run shot and Brian McCann drove in two runs with a double to lead an offensive onslaught that allowed New York to complete their first series sweep in Beantown since a five-game sweep on Aug. 18-21, 2006.
The red-hot Yankees have now won 10 of their past 12 games and they left the slumping Red Sox under .500 for the first time this season.
Behind Gardner, Teixeira and McCann the Yankees were able to build an 8-0 lead on the bewildered Bosox by the sixth inning, doing most of their damage against right-hander Joe Kelly.
With two out in the first inning and Gardner on first, Teixeira opened the scoring by launching his ninth home run of the season over the Green Monster in left-center off a Kelly slider.
Two innings later, the Yankees again struck with two out and Jacoby Ellsbury on second and Teixeira on first. McCann drove a 3-2 fastball to the wall in right-center to score both runners. Carlos Beltran followed an RBI double of his own.
Kelly (1-1), who had beaten right-hander Adam Warren and the Yankees on April 11 at Yankee Stadium by limiting them to just one hit in seven innings, finally was chased from the game with two out in the fifth.
He was charged with five runs on nine hits and no walks with three strikeouts. It was the eighth time in 25 games that the Red Sox have had a starting pitcher yield five or more runs, which is the worst mark in the majors.
Meanwhile, the Yankees were able to add three more runs in the sixth off left-hander Craig Breslow when Didi Gregorius and Ellsbury, who was 4-for-4 on the night, singled and Gardner followed with a his second home run of the season into right-center.
Gardner’s blow appeared to put the game completely out of reach. However, right-hander Warren tired in the sixth and Gardner’s home run ended up being the decisive blow in the contest.
Warren (2-1) had allowed the Red Sox only one hit and two walks through the first five innings and he appeared to be cruising after he retired the first two batters in the sixth.
But Dustin Pedroia singled and David Ortiz scored him from first on a double off the Green Monster. Warren then hit Hanley Ramirez on a 1-1 pitch and Ramirez threw down his bat in disgust believing Warren had thrown at him on purpose.
After Pablo Sandoval singled to score Ortiz, manager Joe Girardi replaced Warren with right-hander Esmil Rogers. Mike Napoli greeted Rogers by lifting a high-arcing fly ball that just reached the Green Monster seats to draw the Red Sox to within three runs at 8-5.
Despite pitching his best game of the season, Warren ended up being charged with four runs on four hits and two walks with two strikeouts in 5 2/3 innings. In his eight major-league starts Warren has yet to pitch six full innings in any them.
After Napoli’s homer Rogers walked Daniel Nava and Xander Bogaerts reached on an infield dribbler to bring up Blake Swihart as the potential tying run. But the rookie playing on only his second major-league game struck out to end the inning in which 10 men went to the plate for the Red Sox.
The game got a little chippy with one out in the top of the eighth inning when right-hander Edward Mujica drilled Ellsbury with a 3-0 pitch in the right thigh. Home-plate umpire Jeff Nelson quickly warned both benches.
The Yankees were able to keep the Red Sox from scoring the rest of the night on the strength of Rogers, Justin Wilson and David Carpenter over the next two innings. But the Red Sox decided to make left-hander Andrew Miller work some overtime to earn his 10th save.
Pinch-hitter Allen Craig drew a leadoff walk from Miller in the ninth before Bogaerts and Swihart struck out. But Mookie Betts also walked and Pedroia reached to load the bases on a throwing error by Chase Headley.
Miller then retired the potential winning run in Ortiz by getting him on a routine flyout. Miller has now extended his scoreless streak this season to 12 1/3 innings and he is perfect 10 for 10 in save chances.
The Yankees have run their season record to 16-9 and they have a three-game lead on the both the Baltimore Orioles and the Tampa Bay Rays in the American League East. The Red Sox are 12-13 and they are a full four games back in fourth place in the division.
- Ellsbury entered the game on fire and he got even hotter on Sunday. He was 4-for-4 (all singles), a walk and was hit with a pitch. Oddly, he scored only one run and he did not drive in a run. But Ellsbury now has 19 hits in his past 40 at-bats (.475) to raise his season average to .351. He also has a six-game hitting streak.
- Gardner really put a dagger in the Bosox the past two games. He drove in three of the team’s four runs in Saturday’s 4-2 victory and on Sunday he was 2-for-6 with a single, a homer, two stolen bases, two runs scored and three RBIs. He was 5-for-14 (.357) in the series with six RBIs.
- Teixeira’s finally proved his surgically repaired right wrist is no longer an issue anymore with his ninth homer of the season that he drove to the opposite field in left-center. Teixeira is in third place in both the majors and the American League in home runs behind Nelson Cruz (13) of the Seattle Mariners and Ramirez (10). Despite the power and his team-leading 20 RBIs, Teixeira is still batting just .202 on the season.
I should be angry with the way Warren could not get through six, the fact Rogers gave up a three-run home run and that the usually flawless Headley committed his sixth error of the season. But because the Yankees did win on national TV and it ended with a sweep against the Red Sox at Fenway, I am willing to overlook all that just to see most of that home crowd of 33,198 going home angry with their team. There is nothing but sunshine in the Yankee Universe.
The Red Sox showed their true colors when Ramirez bellowed like a stuck pig when Warren hit him with a pitch with two outs in the sixth and the Yankees winning 8-1. Manager John Farrell obviously gave the go-ahead for Mujica to retaliate in the eighth on a 3-0 pitch after Mujica had thrown an earlier pitch that Ellsbury had to avoid. In this series, the Yankees had not hit a single Bosox batter while Teixeira and McCann both were hit by pitches on Friday. The idea that Warren intentionally hit Ramirez was even lost on Ortiz, who told reporters after the game he didn’t think Warren’s pitch had that purpose. But Ramirez always has been a prima donna with a sour attitude much like another outfielder named Ramirez who played for Boston. So the intellectually deficient Red Sox decided to target Ellsbury after he forced them for seven hits in 11 at-bats in the series. I think the move shows more a team that is frustrated their starting pitchers are getting lit up like a Chinese New Year celebration and they can’t handle the fact their team is not as good as they believe it is.
Backup infielder Brendan Ryan suffered a setback in his rehab of a right calf strain on Saturday. Ryan, 33, sustained a strained hamstring while he was running sprints at the team’s Tampa, FL, complex and he will have to sit out another week. Ryan first injured his back while lifting weights before spring training games started and then ended up with the strained calf in the final week of camp. For now Gregorio Petit, 29, will remain the backup middle infielder. Obtained from the Houston Astros, Petit is batting ,200 with no homers and five RBIs. However, Jose Pirela, 24, is 11-for-19 (.579) with a homer and five RBIs at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.
The Yankees will make their first trip to Toronto on Monday to open a three-game series with the Blue Jays.
Right-hander Chase Whitley (1-0, 1.80 ERA) will make his second start of the season for the Yankees as the replacement for Masahiro Tanaka in the rotation. Whitley limited the Rays to one run on six hits and one walk with five strikeouts in a victory on Tuesday.
The Blue Jays will counter with knuckle-balling right-hander R.A. Dickey (0-3, 5.23 ERA), who lost again in yielding four runs on nine hits with no walks and four strikeouts in seven innings against the Red Sox on Wednesday.
Game-time will be 7:07 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast by the YES Network.
YANKEES 3, BRAVES 2
With all the Bronx, the Yankee front office and the coaches having completely chewed off their fingernails all winter worrying about Masahiro Tanaka’s right elbow they can now relax. The Japanese right-hander made his spring debut on Thursday and he looked just fine – really.
Tanaka pitched two perfect dominant innings and Jake Cave’s RBI ground-rule double and Nick Noonan’s sacrifice fly in the bottom of seventh inning propelled New York to a come-from-behind victory over Atlanta at George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, FL.
The Yankees entered the seventh trailing 2-1. With one out and pinch-runners Jonathan Galvez and Jose Pirela on second and first, respectively, Cave laced long double to center that plated Galvez to tie the game at 2-2. Noonan followed with a sacrifice fly to left that scored Pirela from third with the go-ahead run.
Left-hander Justin Wilson (1-0) pitched a perfect seventh inning and recorded two strikeouts to get credit for the victory. Braves right-hander Tyrell Jenkins (0-1) was saddled with the loss. Right-hander Wilking Rodriguez pitched a scoreless ninth and earned a save.
The Yankees improved their Grapefruit League record to 6-4.
Tanaka, 26, looked every bit the same pitcher who was 13-5 with a 2.77 ERA in 20 starts last season. It did not take the Braves too long to see it.
He retired Andrelton Simmons and Alberto Callaspo on routine grounders and struck out Freddie Freeman looking on a pitch that Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez disputed so vehemently that he was ejected from the game after the first pitch of the bottom of the inning by home-plate umpire Dan Iassogna.
Tanaka then opened the second by fanning Jonny Gomes and inducing groundball outs from Christian Bethancourt and Chris Johnson. And that was Tanaka’s evening.
All told he threw only 19 pitches, 15 of them for strikes and he threw first-pitch strikes to four of the six batters. He was so efficient he had to go the bullpen to throw enough pitches to get up the 35 he had been allotted.
“Overall, I think it was good,” Tanaka told reporters through an interpreter. “Probably the best part is that I was able to get first-pitch strikes a whole lot tonight.”
He was clocked as high 94 miles per hour on his fastball and he stayed within 88 to 91 most of the outing. He drew raves from his catcher, Brian McCann.
“He looked great, kind of picking up right where he left off last year,” McCann told reporters. “His sinker tonight was what impressed me the most. He had good downward action on it. His split was there, and he had a couple of quick innings. He was putting the ball where he wanted.”
Manager Joe Girardi now feels relieved to have his ace pass his first test of the elbow.
“You want to get all your starters out there and try to get them going,” Girardi told reporters. “You can’t spend your time worrying about what might be. You just approach every day, you know what you have, and you go forward.”
Tanaka also was glad to have his first outing out of the way.
“I feel better right now,” he told reporters. “I’ve had the time to prepare myself up to this point. It has gone well thus far.”
Now all of Yankee Universe can exhale. The team’s ace is just fine – really.
- The concern about Didi Gregorius has not been his glove or arm because both have been sensational. The real issue has been his bat but Gregorius ripped a leadoff triple into left-center off Braves starter Shelby Miller. The 25-year-old shortstop later scored on a fielder’s choice groundout by Brett Gardner to give the team a 1-0 lead.
- After getting shelled for three runs on six hits in the first inning by the Houston Astros in Kissimmee, FL, on Saturday in his spring debut, non-roster invitee Scott Baker pitched two perfect innings before giving up a one-out double to Bethancourt and two-RBI single to Todd Cunningham in the fifth. Baker, 33, now has a chance to stick with the Yankees due to the right quad injury of left-hander Chris Capuano, who will sidelined for a month.
- Cave, 22, is very quietly have a great spring training. The speedy outfielder is 5-for-9 (.556) with a double and home run and four RBIs. Cave advanced from Class-A Tampa to Double-A Trenton in 2014 and batted a combined .294 with seven homers and 42 RBIs in 132 games.
- Right-hander David Carpenter looked a little shaky in his one inning work against his former teammates. Carpenter was tagged for a pair of singles by Pedro Ciriaco and Simmons to begin the sixth. Callaspo followed with a sac fly to score Ciriaco from third. Carpenter, 29, and left-hander Chasen Shreve were acquired over the winter in exchange for former Yankees No. 1 pitching prospect Manny Banuelos. Carpenter figures to be the primary setup man in the bullpen for Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances.
- I am always being reminded that it is early but Stephen Drew keeps extending his hitting woes. He was 0-for-2 on Thursday and is 1-for-13 (.077) this far. Drew likely will break camp as the team’s starting second baseman. But after he hit a combined .162 with the Boston Red Sox and the Yankees last season he better get going with the bat sooner rather than later.
With the bad news about Capuano’s injury it is about time the Yankees got some good news about their starters. Along with Tanaka’s successful debut the Yankees were encouraged by left-hander CC Sabathia’s 29-pitch simulated session earlier in the day. Sabathia, 34, said he has not felt any pain in his surgically repaired right knee and thinks he is ready to take the next step of starting in an exhibition game. That could come as soon as next Tuesday at home against the Toronto Blue Jays or in Lake Buena Vista, FL, on Wednesday against the Braves.
The Yankees will make their only trip of the spring to Fort Myers, FL, on Friday to face the Red Sox at JetBlue Park.
Right-hander Adam Warren will make his third start of the spring for the Yankees. Warren, 27. has no record and has a 1.80 ERA.
McCann will play along with Garrett Jones, Chris Young and John Ryan Murphy.
The Red Sox will counter with right-hander Rick Porcello, 26, who was acquired from the Detroit Tigers and is 0-0 and with 0.00 ERA after one outing.
Game-time will be 7:05 p.m. EDT and the game will broadcast by the MLB Network.
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.
The New York Yankees have played 33 percent of the season and their record stands just about where it was in 2011 when the Yankees were 31-23. That team ended up winning 97 games to lead the American League. The question is in 2012 can the Yankees reach the same heights with the loss of Hall of Fame closer Mariano Rivera, young right-handed starter Michael Pineda and an offense that seems to sputter with runners in scoring position. Let’s examine how the Yankees have fared.
Last season the Yankees wielded a powerful offense despite the fact only Curtis Granderson and Robinson Cano had what could be called good seasons. Their hope in 2012 was that Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, Nick Swisher, Russell Martin and Brett Gardner would join them along with new designated hitter Raul Ibanez, who replaced the retired Jorge Posada.
Instead, the Yankees can actually only point to one hitter who has truly carried the offense throughout the season and that is Jeter. The 37-year-old shortstop has reached the one-third mark with the third-highest batting average in the American League at .336 with six home runs and 20 RBIs.
It is an extension of the way he has hit since he returned from the disabled list last July and it has finally silenced talk throughout Yankee Universe that his productive days were behind him.
The only disappointing part of Jeter’s season is his run scored total of 30. That number points to the problems the Yankees have had in scoring runs this season when they are not hitting home runs.
The team’s batting average with runners in scoring position is atrocious. Jeter leads the team in that category hitting a mere .262. Ibanez is hitting .256. The rest is abysmal: Swisher, .236; Granderson, .222; Teixeira, .218; Martin, .172; Rodriguez, .170; and Cano, .140.
What is manager Joe Girardi to do? Should he bench A-Rod and Cano in favor of Eric Chavez and Jayson Nix? Should he bat A-Rod leadoff because he is hitting .346 with the bases empty and make Jeter the cleanup hitter?
The problem is all Girardi can do is trust that these hitters will begin to hit more like they have in the past and the law of averages will mean the Yankees will start to begin to punish pitchers who dare to load the bases. The Yankees are 9-for-57 (.158) in those situations this season.
The Yankees have also suffered from a dramatic shift in their offense away from speed because Gardner has been on the disabled list since April 19 with a strained right elbow that has been slow to heal. In addition, Eduardo Nunez was sent back to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre after he continued to butcher balls so badly fielding he earned the nickname “Eduardo Scissorhands.” With it, Nunez took his 22 steals playing half the time in 2011.
Without Gardner and Nunez, the Yankees are less of a threat on the bases. Rodriguez has six steals and that ties him for the team lead with Nunez, who had six before his demotion on May 11.
The Yankees hope to have Gardner back within a week and it will be a welcome sight. Gardner was hitting .321 when he was injured and he has the ability to spark the offense with his speed. His exceptional Gold Glove-worthy defense in left-field has also been missed.
There are also hopeful signs that Teixeira is coming out his usual early-season struggles at the plate. In his last 10 games, Tex is hitting .351 with four home runs and 12 RBIs. He has abandoned his “put the ball in play” strategy to increase his batting average and gone back to his “swing for production” approach and it appears to be working.
Just don’t expect Teixeira to anywhere near the .308 average he hit in the season before he joined the Yankees. Those days seem to be behind him much like they were for his predecessor Jason Giambi after he left Oakland.
Cano and Rodroguez also are showing signs of life with the bat. Rodriguez has four home runs in his last four games and Cano was hitting .308 on May 26 until a recent 4-for-29 (.138) slide has dropped his average back to .284.
The truth is that the Yankees only will go as far as the productive bats of Cano, Rodriguez and Teixeira take them. If you triple their current numbers, Cano would have 24 home runs and 72 RBIs, Rodriguez would have 27 homers and 66 RBIs and Teixeira would have 27 home runs and 96 RBIs.
Would anyone like to bet the house that those numbers will actually be their final numbers? It would be a fool’s bet, for sure. But they have to start hitting and soon.
Granderson is having a season much like his breakout 2011 season. He has 17 home runs and 33 RBIs. His .261 average is only a point lower than he hit last season. No problem there. But there are some negatives, too.
Granderson has struck out 61 times in 207 at-bats and that translates to 183 strikeouts for a full season. He also has stolen three bases in six attempts. He also has only one triple.
It would be nice to see Granderson elevate his speed game and cut the strikeouts as the season progresses.
Swisher helped carry the offense in April by hitting .284 with six home runs and 23 RBIs. But in May, Swisher suffered a hamstring injury and he has slumped ever since. He hit just .207 in May with two home runs and nine RBIs. With this being his contract year, Swisher has all the motivation in the world to get busy hitting again. Let’s see if he can.
Ibanez, meanwhile, has been a revelation. Only signed to be a left-handed DH, Ibanez has been forced to play left-field in Gardner’s absence and he has done fine there. Ibanez has also contributed nine home runs and 29 RBIs while hitting.252. Gardner’s return should allow him to get some occasional rest at age 40 and it also might help him stay fresh the remainder of the season.
Andruw Jones, the right-handed half of the DH platoon, is off to a slow start similar to his 2011 season. He has five home runs and 11 RBIs and he hitting .233.
The biggest disappointment in the Yankees’ offense this season has been Martin.
Last season, Martin hit 18 home runs and drove in 65 runs despite hitting .237. This season, Martin is hitting a mere .194 and has four home runs and 12 RBIs. With Martin’s defensive gifts behind the plate, it is inconceivable that Girardi would replace him.
But the Yankees have ben spoiled by the offense Posada provided and there are Yankee fans who are still angry that general manager Brian Cashman traded rookie catcher Jesus Montero to the Mariners. To make them even madder, Montero is on a pace to hit 21 home runs and drive in 81 runs with the Mariners this season.
Martin better pick it up and fast. Backup catcher Chris Stewart is hitting .227 with six RBIs catching just once a week.
The Yankees got tired of hearing that the quality of their starting pitching began and ended with CC Sabathia.
In 2011, they cobbled a starting staff together with retreads like Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia and a promising rookie in Ivan Nova and somehow won 97 games and made the playoffs. But they were quickly eliminated to a staff of pitchers that were better in the Tigers.
This season, they ignored the extravagant fixes like C.J. Wilson or Yu Darvish and decided instead to sign Hiroki Kuroda to a one-year, $10 million contract and trade megastar Montero for Pineda. They also re-signed the 35-year-old Garcia after his 12-8 record with a 3.62 ERA.
They were counting on Nova’s continued development after a 16-4 mark and a 3.70 ERA and the return of 25-year-old Phil Hughes, who was throwing with velocity again much like he did in 2010 when he was 18-8 with a 4.16 ERA.
A funny thing happened on the way to the start of the regular season. None of this really worked out as Girardi and pitching coach Larry Rothschild would have hoped.
Pineda showed up to camp this winter overweight by 20 pounds and the velocity on his fastball was down considerably. As spring training unfolded, Pineda never regained the velocity he had last season and after a late spring start he revealed he was pitching with a sore right shoulder.
He underwent surgery to repair a slight tear in his right shoulder and he hopes to return in the early stages of the 2013 season. Scratch Pineda.
The Yankees then hoped Garcia would be able to provide the same ability to keep them in games he showed last season. Unfortunately, Garcia was unable to regain even the modest velocity on his pitches he had last season and he was lit up like bottle rockets at the start of the Chinese New Year.
After four April starts in which he was 0-2 with a 12.71 ERA, Garcia was banished to long relief in the bullpen and there he sits. He has not pitched a game since May 21. Scratch Garcia.
The Yankees big surprise was when 39-year-old left-handed legend Andy Petitte decided to return to the Yankees after one year in retirement. After allowing Pettitte to build up his arm and legs in the minors early this season, Pettitte returned to the majors on May 13.
In his four starts, he is 2-2 with a 3.49 ERA and a 1.13 WHIP. By all measures it does not appear that Pettitte has suffered any regression of his abilities when he was idle. After the loss of Pineda for the season and Garcia’s demise, Pettitte has provided some optimism to the Yankees’ rotation.
The rest of the staff has been down early and getting better lately.
Kuroda in six of his 11 starts is 4-1 with a 1.44 ERA. In his other five starts he is 0-5 with a 8.03 ERA. Inconsistency with his command and perhaps having to adjust to a new league has a lot to do with the bad numbers. But, Kuroda is showing signs of improvement since April 24. Since then he is 3-3 with a 3.40 ERA.
The Yankees have hope the 37-year-old right-hander will continue to improve as the season goes along as he adjusts to a much tougher division like the American League East.
Hughes has also shown signs of finding his rhythm after missing most all of 2011 with weakness in his right shoulder.
The 25-year-old right-hander was 1-3 with a 7.88 ERA in April. Since then he is 4-2 with a 3.94 ERA and he is coming off the first nine-inning complete game of his career as he held the Tigers to one run and struck out eight on Sunday. Hughes is beginning to show the form that he showed when he made the American League All-Star team in 2010.
The enigma of the group has been Nova.
When he is good, it seems he gets little support or he gives up a key home run that beats him. When he is shaky, the Yankees score a lot of runs and he wins anyway.
So Nova is 6-2 with a 5.60 ERA. That is a far cry from his 2011 rookie season when he won 13 straight games.
The home-run ball is killing Nova. Last season he gave up 13 in 165 1/3 innings. This season he has given up 13 in 62 2/3 innings.
The odd thing is Nova probably has more electric stuff than any starter apart from Sabathia. The problem is Nova has been unable to harness it. When you can’t command the strike zone you are reduced to throwing fastballs over the plate and fastballs over the plate can end up in the seats.
So the answer to Nova’s troubles might be easily fixed when he begins to harness that command. He struck out 12 Reds in six innings on May 19 but lost because of three-run home run hit by Joey Votto. That is pretty much defined Nova’s odd season so far.
But at age 25, Nova is capable of good things and the Yankees have to trust he will continue to improve as he gets older. As long as Pettitte, Kuroda and Hughes are pitching well, Nova will be given that chance to grow. The alternatives of Garcia or rookie David Phelps or minor leaguers like D.J. Mitchell do not have the same arsenal Nova possesses.
That is why the Yankees have to continue to use him.
Sabathia has been, well, like Sabathia always has been.
At times shaky early in the season, Sabathia is 7-2 with a 3.12 ERA in his last nine starts. He has 74 strikeouts in 78 1/3 innings and his WHIP is 1.24.
It does not take a rocket scientist to figure out that Sabathia is simply off to another season like his first three with the Yankees in which he 59-23 with a 3.05 ERA. The 31-year-old left-hander is the rock and foundation of this rotation.
He is pitching like it and as long as Pettitte, Kuroda and Hughes provide quality innings behind him, the Yankees should win enough as Nova develops. If they don’t this season is simply doomed to be a pretty bad one for the Yankees. It is just that simple.
For all intents and purposes the Yankees’ 2012 season should have ended on May 3 when All-Universe closer Mariano Rivera went down in a heap shagging a fly ball on the warning track at Kauffman Stadium.
No doubt about it, losing Rivera was a big blow to the Bronx Bombers.
But Girardi had faith that David Robertson and Rafael Soriano would pick up the slack and the Yankees would be able to carry on without their precious Mo.
However, not more than 12 days later Robertson ended up on the disabled list with a left oblique strain.
Suddenly, the team with the deepest and best bullpen in baseball was no longer as deep or perceived to be as good.
However, Soriano has been successful in all seven of his save opportunities and he is 2-0 with a 1.89 RRA. Those are not too far from Mo numbers so the Yankees still have faith in their bullpen.
Girardi is hoping Robertson is a few weeks away to returning to the team. It is unclear if Robertson will get another opportunity to close. It is more likely he will resume his eighth-inning setup role.
In the meantime, Girardi is getting yeoman work from a mix-and-match righty combination of Cory Wade (2.55 ERA) and Cody Eppley (4.22) and a lefty combination of Boone Logan (2.79) and Clay Rapada (3.86). Phelps is providing quality long relief (2.94 ERA).
So somehow the Yankees’ bullpen is getting the job done despite the injuries and that is a credit to Girardi and Rothschild.
The long-term prospects for the bullpen also appear bright because the Yankees have a number of possible replacements in the pipeline.
One is David Aardsma, a former Mariners closer who is hoping to return to the majors at around the All-Star break. The Yankees also have sinkerball specialist Mitchell a phone call away at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. Mitchell is a starter but his long-term major-league career may translate to the bullpen.
The Yankees are also holding out some hope that Joba Chamberlain may recover from his Tommy John surgery and the horrific ankle injury he suffered this spring to pitch some this season. The jury is out but he insists he is ahead of schedule.
The Yankees are pretty much paddling water like most of the other teams in the American League East.
They stand 1 1/2 games out of first place and they are playing the first-place Rays at home beginning on Tuesday.
That will allow the Yankees to get into position to make a push over the next 54 games. After the Rays they will open their interleague schedule starting against the Mets at home this weekend.
The Yankees have the best interleague record in baseball and this period will give them a chance to press into the lead in the division while pretenders like the Orioles and Jays are poised for a slide downward. The Rays and Red Sox look to be ready to keep pace with the Yankees moving into the summer.
The biggest keys to the Yankees’ success lies in its offense being able to turn itself around and begin to hit with runners in scoring position. The team also must get more consistent pitching from Kuroda, Hughes and Nova behind Pettitte and Sabathia.
The bullpen has held together for now and Girardi must hope it continues to hold up in the absence of Rivera.
If I was a betting man, I would not bet against the Yankees standing atop this division at the the two-thirds mark of the season. There is just too much talent on this roster for it not to start asserting itself.
The Yankees have always been a second-half team. They seem to be able to turn it on in the summer months and steam ahead of the pack. I see this happening again soon. The question is who will be with them.
The Rays, boosted by their pitching, should be one. I am not sure how much steam the Red Sox have but I do know that the Orioles and Jays do not look capable of staying with the big boys.
The Orioles are in a slide already and it appears that the ball is over for this Cinderella. The Jays have struggled all season and their pitching is not capable of keeping them in it over the long haul.
So even with no Mo, the Yankees seem to have enough “mo” (as in momentum) to carry them into the summer.
Retirement is a one-way trip to insignificance.
When I first heard the news Andy Pettitte had decided to come out of retirement to pitch for the Yankees this season I thought it was a hoax. When Andy walked away from a $12 million contract offer after the 2010 season I thought the next time we would see him pitch was in an Old-Timer’s game at Yankee Stadium. But now that I know he did, indeed, sign a $2.5 million minor-league contract on Friday, I could not wipe the smile off my face.
The immediate thought is what manager Joe Girardi and pitching coach Larry Rothschild are going to do to sort out a sudden glut of seven starting pitchers with only five spots available. As it is without Pettitte in the mix, you have Ivan Nova (16 wins), Michael Pineda (promising sophomore right-hander), Freddy Garcia (crafty veteran) and Phil Hughes (18 wins in 2010) vying for the three spots behind CC Sabathia and Hiroki Kuroda.
It is a good thing the Yankees traded A.J. Burnett and Mike Mussina has not planned a comeback or it could be a real mess.
But Pettitte obviously will need time to get into “game shape” and build his arm strength for the 2012 season and he will not be able to start with the Yankees by Opening Day. Yankee general manager Brian Cashman estimated it might take about seven weeks.
So at age 39, Pettitte will embark on an extended spring training and then he will likely venture to Triple-A Empire State (formerly Scranton/Wilkes-Barre) for a series of starts until the Yankees decide he is ready to join the Yankees. That could be mid-May or later.
So Girardi’s immediate plan is to just sort out the six starters he has now and wait to see what happens with Pettitte later.
If the decision were mine to make now I would give Nova a spot because he earned it with the 16 games he won as a rookie last season. He also has a very high upside in potential and the Yankees could use a young pitcher in their rotation.
Pineda deserves a spot based on his great showing last season but there is a big problem: His velocity on the fastball is down and the Yankees are concerned though they are not voicing it publicly. Perhaps the Yankees open the season allowing Pineda to try to recapture it in the major leagues, as they did with Hughes last season.
But they would be able to place him on the disabled list or just send him to Empire State to build arm strength at some point. It is a possibility.
Hughes looks like he is back from his arm woes. He threw four shutout innings on Friday and in his previous start at Ft. Myers, FL., against the Twins he was registering 92 miles per hour on the radar gun.
If Hughes wins the No. 5 spot, then Garcia would be in the bullpen ready to fill in if Pineda struggles or there is an injury.
Garcia’s stuff translates well to the bullpen because he throws strikes and mixes his pitches well. A team could do worse that to have a pitcher who was 12-8 with a 3.62 ERA in the bullpen.
As for when Pettitte is ready to join the 25-man roster, that is one of those “cross the bridge when we get it to it” deals for Girardi. A lot can happen in a 162-game schedule with injuries and ineffectiveness. As to who do you bump from the rotation for Pettitte, i have no idea how to answer that question now.
But what I do know is that this turn of events is very bad news for the Boston Red Sox and Tampa Bay Rays.
The Red Sox have three very good starters (Josh Beckett, Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz), a big question mark (Daniel Bard) and a fifth starter to be selected out of a grab bags of misfits and free-agent sludge.
The Rays thought the y had the best rotation in the division with the likes of James Shields, David Price, Jeremy Hellickson and rookie lefty Matt Moore. To tell you the truth they still could. However, the addition of Pettitte makes the difference between the two staffs somewhat insignificant.
Think of what Pettitte was able to do in 2010.
He was 11-3 with a 3.26 ERA and he was headed for a great season when a groin injury shelved him during the home stretch of the pennant race. In his two starts in the postseason Pettitte was 1-1 with a 2.57 ERA. Then he walked away thinking his calling was at home with his family.
But coming to training camp this spring as a guest instructor apparently got Andy to thinking there was still something left in the tank. Of course, we all saw that. It wasn’t like Andy’s record was 4-14 with a 5.42 ERA and we all knew we could stick a fork in him because he was done.
No, Andy walked away when he was still one of the better left-handers in the American League and he is still the all-time leader in postseason wins (19), starts (42) and innings pitched (263). Pettitte is also third on the Yankees all-time win list (203) behind Hall-of-Famers Whitey Ford (236) and Red Ruffing (231).
What better way to spend a summer for Andy than joining Derek Jeter to get an up close and personal view of what could be fellow “Core Four” veteran Mariano Rivera in what could be his last season?
This is an historic and monumental day in Yankee history. One of the most successful pitchers from their golden era (1996 through 2000) is coming back to don No. 46 and reprrise that famous steel-eyed glare over the glove Pettitte made famous.
Yep, the Pettitte family’s temporary loss of their beloved father is certainly Yankee Universe’s gain. Welcome back, Andy!
When Gerald Ford assumed the presidency from a resigned Richard Nixon on Aug. 9, 1974 he told the American people in a nationally televised address that “our long national nightmare is over.”
Well, on Feb. 17, 2012 I am hear to tell Yankee Universe that our own “national nightmare” is indeed over.
The New York Yankees and the Pittsburgh Pirates have tentatively reached agreement on a deal that would send enigmatic 35-year-old right-hander A.J. Burnett to the Pittsburgh Pirates in exchange for two minor leaguers and $13 million in cash.
The deal has not been officially announced and it still would require the approval of Commissioner Bud Selig because of the amount of cash involved. But the fact that the Pirates have released the names of the two players the Yankees are acquiring in the deal is proof that the negotiations are down to one last detail: The payment schedule on the $13 million the Pirates will pay the Yankees.
Burnett is in the fourth year of a five-year, $82 million contract he signed with the Yankees in 2009. The Yankees have insisted in their trade talks with the Pirates that they would have to assume some of the roughly $33 million still owed Burnett over the next two seasons.
In addition to the $13 million the Pirates have agreed to pay, the Yankees will receive 25-year-old right-handed reliever Diego Moreno and 20-year-old outfielder Exicardo Cayones. Both players are natives of Venezuela.
The 6-foot-1, 175-pound Moreno is entering his sixth season in the minors and was a combined 2-4 with a 3.63 ERA in 41 games with Class-A Bradenton in the Florida State League and Double-A Altoona in the Eastern League.
The 6-foot, 185-pound Cayones is entering his fourth minor-league season and hit a combined .228 with no home runs and 12 RBIs between the Pirates’ Class A Gulf League team and Class-A State College in the New York-Penn League.
Neither Moreno or Cayones are listed among the Pirates’ Top 20 prospects rated by MLB. com.
The main reason the Yankees are unloading Burnett without much in return is because he has been a disappointment during his three years in pinstripes and huge salary is a albatross around the Yankees’ necks. Burnett was a combined 34-35 with a 4.79 ERA in stint with the Yankees. His average of 3.98 walks per nine innings was second in the American League and fifth in the major leagues, according to STATS, LLC.
Burnett also became expendable when the Yankees traded catcher Jesus Montero and right-handed pitcher Hector Noesi to the Seattle Mariners in exchange for 23-year-old right-hander Michael Pineda and 19-year-old right-hander Jose Campos. The Yankees then added to their rotation by signing former Los Angeles Dodgers right-hander Hiroki Kuroda to a one-year, $10 million contract.
That left Burnett, 25-year-old right-hander Phil Hughes and 35-year-old right-hander Freddy Garcia left to compete for the No. 5 spot in a Yankee rotation that already boasted ace left-hander CC Sabathia and Ivan Nova, who was 16-7 in his rookie season,
The Yankees were basically seeking some salary relief from the Pirates in order to sign a designated hitter and a backup infielder for the 2012 season.
The Yankees seem to be most interested in 39-year-old left-hand-hitting outfielder Raul Ibanez to pair with 34-year-old right-hand-hitting outfielder Andruw Jones in a platoon at designated hitter. Ibanez, a free agent, has told the Yankees he would willing to sign a contract for less money in order to play with a playoff contender.
Ibanez hit .245 with 20 home runs and 84 RBIs with the Phillies last season but he hit only .211 against left-handers. He hit .256 with 16 home runs and 60 RBIs against right-handers.
If the Yankees fail to sign Ibanez they have two left-handed-hitting options at DH in former Yankees Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui, who are also free agents.
The Yankees also would like to re-sign 34-year-old backup corner infielder Eric Chavez, who hit .263 with two home runs and 26 RBIs in 58 games with the Yankees last season.
Once the deal for Burnett is complete and approved by the commissioner, the Yankees expect to act quickly to sign Chavez and one of the free agent DHs.
As for Burnett, the Yankee front office, teammates and fans alike will shake their heads on how a pitcher with such unhittable stuff could pitch so poorly for such a good offensive team like the Yankees.
When he was signed, Burnett was looked upon as the No. 2 starter behind fellow free agent Sabathia for the next five years. They both delivered a world championship in 2009 when Burnett was 13-9 with a 4.04 ERA.
But Burnett will be best remembered for rescuing the Yankees in Game 2 of the World Series against the Phillies after Cliff Lee had bested Sabathia in Game 1. Burnett threw a spectacular seven innings and evened the series the Yankees eventually won in six games.
Unfortunately is was mostly downhill from there. Burnett was 10-15 with a 5.26 ERA in 2010. In 2011, the Yankees hired pitching coach Larry Rothschild largely on the basis of his proposed fixes to help Burnett get back on track. However, Burnett was 11-11 with a 5.15 after Rothschild tinkered with his delivery.
Burnett also was embroiled in some odd incidents. He cut his finger on his pitching hand angrily trying to open a clubhouse door. He arrived for a start in 2010 sporting a black eye that he refused to explain. He also had an clubhouse run-in with Joe Girardi after he left a start in Minnesota last August.
Burnett also had to deal with a loss in velocity on his fastball, which had made him more hittable.
With the Pirates, Burnett likely will become a co-ace with free-agent left-hander Eric Bedard in a rotation that also includes Kevin Correia, James McDonald and former Yankee Jeff Karstens. The Pirates’ right-hander Charlie Morton is recovering from left hip surgery and he is not expected to be able to pitch when the season starts.
In Pittsburgh, Burnett will face less pressure to win and less expectations to succeed than he did with the Yankees.
Though the Yankees and their fans will forever miss “Good A.J.” and his post-game celebratory pies in the face in walk-off victories, those same people will not miss the inevitable unraveling of “Bad A.J.” on the mound.
Speaking for Yankee fans, thanks A.J. for 2009 and good luck in trying to get back on track in the National League.