Tagged: Zach Britton

Orioles’ Home Run Barrage Bests Whitley, Yankees

GAME 31

ORIOLES 6, YANKEES 2

The Orioles hit three home runs within a seven-batter sequence off right-hander Chase Whitley and Wei-Yin Chen held the Yankees to one run in seven innings as Baltimore derailed New York on Saturday at Yankee Stadium.

Jimmy Paredes homered on the first pitch from Whitley with two out in the third inning. With one out in the third, Chris Davis also went yard on the first pitch and, two batters later, Alejandro De Aza connected with a man on to give the Orioles a quick 4-0 lead.

Chen (1-1), meanwhile, held the Yankees to one run on five hits with seven strikeouts in seven innings to earn his first victory of the season. Zach Britton retired the last two batters to earn his sixth save.

Whitley (1-1), who only gave up three home runs over 143 batters in Yankee Stadium prior to this game, was charged with five runs on six hits and two walks with five strikeouts in six innings.

The Yankees only run off Chen came in the fifth on a Chase Headley one-out single, a double by Stephen Drew and a sacrifice fly off the bat of John Ryan Murphy.

They added an unearned run in the eighth inning when Jacoby Ellsbury reached on a fielding error by Ryan Flaherty. Brett Gardner singled him to second and Carlos Beltran scored Ellsbury on a two-out RBI single.

The loss dropped the Yankees season record to 19-12. They are two games ahead of the second-place Tampa Bay Rays in the American League East. The O’s are 13-15 and 4 1/2 games behind the Yankees in the division.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Beltran was 1-for-4 with an RBI and he does appear to be slowly shaking his hitting woes. On April 28, he was batting .159. Since then Beltran is 9-for-35 (.257) with five RBIs. That has raised his average to .194. He still has some work to do but he appears to be getting somewhere.
  • Jose Pirela has only played in three games but he already appears ready to spark the bottom of the batting order. He was the Yankee to have more than one hit on Saturday. He was 2-for-4 and is 4-for-11 (.364) in those three games. Considering that Drew is batting .182 and Didi Gregarious is batting .209, Pirela looks to getting more and more playing time at second base.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • This was in every sense of the word a “throwaway” game for the Yankees. Manager Joe Girardi knew going into the contest that his “Twin Towers” in the bullpen, Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller, were unavailable and Gregorius, Alex Rodriguez and Brian McCann did not start. It does not mean that the Yankees did not try to win the game. But let’s just say they played it with one hand tied behind their back. They chose to rest some people and were definitely looking at the big picture.
  • Whitley started off with a bang by striking out four of the first six batters he faced but he got caught up in trying to pound the zone early with strikes. Paredes and Davis made him pay by cranking out first-pitch fastballs. It happens and remember that Whitley is, in every sense, the team’s No. 8 starter behind Masahiro Tanaka, Michael Pineda, CC Sabathia, Nathan Eovaldi, Adam Warren and both Chris Capuano and Ivan Nova, who are rehabbing injuries.
  • Ellsbury was 0-for-5, which snapped his 11-game hitting streak. Even with that he reached base on an error and scored one of the team’s two runs. The 0-for-5 day dropped his season average to .347 to fall behind Orioles outfielder Adam Jones, who was 1-fo-4 and is batting .355 to lead the American League.

BOMBER BANTER

Rodriguez missed Saturday’s game with what Girardi told reporters was tightness n both legs. Girardi said the he hoped to have the veteran designated hitter back for Sunday’s game. Rodriguez, 40, felt tightness in his legs after Friday’s game in which he hit his first triple since 2012. Rodriguez is second on the team with seven home runs and 19 RBIs and he has played in 26 of the Yankees’ 31 games.  . . .  The Yankees placed right-hander Chris Martin, 28, on the 15-day disabled list on Saturday with tendinitis in his right elbow. The Yankees recalled right-hander Branden Pinder, 26, from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre to replace Martin on the 25-man roster. Martin is 0-1 with a 3.55 ERA in 12 2/3 innings over 15 appearances. Pinder was up with the Yankees previously this season and he has pitched two scoreless innings.

ON DECK

The Yankees can still claim a 3-1 series victory on Sunday against the Orioles.

Right-hander Pineda (4-0, 2.97 ERA) will go to the mound for the Yankees. Pineda has never lost in his career to the Orioles and he is coming off a game in which he shut out the Toronto Blue Jays on five hits and one walk with six strikeouts in eight innings on Tuesday. It was, by far, the most dominant outing for Pineda this season.

The Orioles will counter with right-hander Bud Norris (1-3, 9.75 ERA), who was ill on Saturday. Norris yielded three runs on seven hits and one walk with four strikeouts in seven innings in a loss to the New York Mets on Tuesday.

Game-time will be 1:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast nationally by the MLB Network and locally by the YES Network.

 

Yankees’ ‘Twin Towers’ Shut Down Orioles Again

GAME 30

YANKEES 5, ORIOLES 4

You made me love you
I didn’t want to do it, I didn’t want to do it
You made me want you
And all the time you knew it, I guess you always knew it

                                           –  “You Made Me Love You (I Didn’t Want To Do It)” by Al Jolson

In a game in which the Yankees took a 5-0 lead after three innings the last thing manager Joe Girardi was thinking was that he would have to use his “Twin Towers” to have to close out the game. But that is just what happened on Friday night in front of a paid crowd of 38,731 at Yankee Stadium.

Girardi was forced into using 6-foot-8 right-hander Dellin Betances and 6-foot-7 left-hander Andrew Miller to close out the final 2 1/3 innings as New York downed Baltimore for a second straight game.

Betances (4-0) pitched 1 1/3 innings of perfect relief to get credit for the victory and Miller hurled a 1-2-3 ninth to earn his Major-League-leading 13th save in 13 opportunities.

The Yankees stormed out to an early lead on right-hander Miguel Gonzalez (3-2) when Jacoby Ellsbury extended his hitting streak to 11 games with a leadoff infield single and Brett Gardner followed with a double.

Alex Rodriguez scored Ellsbury with a sacrifice fly and, one out later, Brian McCann laced a 3-0 fastball into the seats in right-field for his third home run of the season.

Two innings later, Ellsbury reached on a leadoff walk and Gardner advanced him to third with a single. Gardner subsequently stole second. Two outs later, McCann was walked intentionally to load the bases and struggling veteran outfielder Carlos Beltran then cracked a two-run double to pad the Yankees’ lead to 5-0.

However, right-hander Adam Warren encountered both pitch count and command issues in the fifth inning.

J.J. Hardy and Ryan Flaherty opened the frame by drawing back-to-back walks. Manny Machado followed with an RBI single that scored Hardy.

One out later, Adam Jones loaded the bases with a single and Delmon Young scored Flaherty and chased Warren with a fielder’s choice groundout that erased Jones at second.

Warren left having been charged with two runs on seven hits and three walks with two strikeouts in 4 2/3 innings. He left having thrown 88 pitches and he has now failed to complete six innings in any of his eight career starts.

Left-hander Justin Wilson struck out Chris Davis to end the inning, however, he ran into trouble of his own in the sixth inning.

After retiring the first two batters, Wilson allowed a double to J.J. Hardy and Flaherty reached after being hit with a pitch. Girardi brought in right-hander Chris Martin to replace Wilson.

But Martin ended up issuing a walk to Machado to load the bases and rookie Jimmy Paredes singled in two runs to draw the Orioles within a run.

So the combination of Warren’s inability to go further in the game and shaky bullpen work from Wilson and Martin forced Girardi’s hand to use his best bullpen tandem for a second straight game.

Meanwhile, the Yankees offense went to sleep after Gonzalez left having given up five runs on five hits and two walks with two strikeouts in four innings.

Left-hander T.J. McFarland, right-hander Darren O’Day and left-hander Zach Britton held the Yankees to three hits and one intentional walk over the final five innings to keep the O’s in the game.

With the victory the Yankees improved to 19-11 and they maintained a three-game lead over the second-place Tampa Bay Rays in the American League East. The Orioles, who lost their third straight contest, fell to 12-15 and they are tied with the Boston Red Sox in fourth place, 5 1/2 games behind the Yankees.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Ellsbury was 1-for-3 and scored two runs and he is now batting .362, which now leads the American League. Jones, who entered the game hitting .367, was 1-for-5 and that dropped his average to .359. Ellsbury and Gardner combined to go 3-for-7 with a double, two singles, a stolen base and four runs scored. The tandem is a combined 71-for-205 (.346) on the season.
  • McCann continues to love Yankee Stadium because 22 of his 26 home runs with the Yankees have come at home. McCann entered the contest in a 1-for-14 (.071) funk before he connected for his third home run of the season. McCann is now batting .231.
  • The “Twin Towers” of Betances and Miller have now combined for a 4-0 record, 13 saves and a 0.00 ERA in 31 games. They have yielded only 11 hits and 16 walks with 54 strikeouts in 33 1/3 innings. Their combined WHIP is 0.81. Unfortunately, neither will be available for Saturday’s game.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • Warren is showing everyone what I already knew: He is better suited coming out of the bullpen. He is 2-1 with a 4.65 ERA in six starts but his failure to pitch six complete innings is hurting the team because it is draining the bullpen. It is a good thing that left-hander Chris Capuano is making some minor-league rehab starts because the Yankees could use Capuano so they can shift Warren back to the bullpen, where he recorded a 2.97 ERA in 69 games last season.
  • Chase Headley went 0-for-4 and he seems to be really mired a three-week slump. On April 22, Headley was hitting .254 with two homers and nine RBIs. Since then he is 10-for-50 (.200) with one homer and one RBI. After a hot spring it looked as if Headley was primed for a big season, but it is looking like he has fallen back in some old bad habits at the plate.
  • Martin’s 0-1 record and 3.55 ERA in 15 appearances seem like pretty good numbers. However, one very ugly number for him is that he has allowed five of seven inherited runners to score and two of them scored on Friday on Paredes’ bases-loaded single in the sixth. Martin has to do better when he enters the game with runners on base.

BOMBER BANTER

After being harassed by the press for two months, Girardi finally named Miller as the team’s closer after the left-hander earned his 13th save. Asked again if Miller was his closer at his postgame press conference, Girardi told reporters: “Is there a reason I have to? He’s been closing games for us. He’s our closer. Is that better? Is that going to be the headline tomorrow?”  . . .  Right-hander Masahiro Tanaka played catch for a second straight day prior to Friday’s game and reported no issues with his right wrist or forearm. Tanaka, who has been on the disabled list since April 28 with tendinitis in his wrist and a mild strain in his forearm, made 25 throws from 60 feet and another 25 from 90 feet. The Yankees believe he is on schedule to be back in about a month.

ON DECK

The Yankees will continue their four-game series with the O’s on Saturday having clinched at least in a series split already.

Right-hander Chase Whitley (1-0, 0.75 ERA) will make his third start of the season since being recalled from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. Whitley, 25, needs to pitch the same way he pitched on Monday when he shut out the Toronto Blue Jays on six hits and no walks with six strikeouts in seven innings for his first victory.

The Orioles will start left-hander Wei-Yin Chen (0-1, 2.83 ERA), who surrendered two runs on seven hits and two walks with four strikeouts in six innings in a no-decision against the Rays on Sunday.

Game-time will be 1:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast by the YES Network.

 

O’s Score 5 in Sixth As Yankees’ Bullpen Implodes

GAME 9

ORIOLES 7, YANKEES 5

Nathan Eovaldi struck out nine batters in five innings and provided the bullpen a 3-2 lead on Wednesday but the Orioles scored five runs in the sixth inning as Baltimore handed New York a difficult defeat at Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

Jonathan Schoop, who batted .209 last season, greeted right-hander David Carpenter (0-1) with a first-pitch home run into the bleachers in left-center to erase a 3-2 lead and end Eovaldi’s bid for his first victory with the Yankees.

Alejandro De Aza followed with a single and was advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt by Everth Cabrera. Adam Jones was walked intentionally and Carpenter was replaced by left-hander Justin Wilson with left-handed hitters Travis Snider and Chris Davis due up.

However, Delmon Young pinch-hit for Snider and he delivered an RBI single to score De Aza and Davis followed with a two-run double. One out later, Caleb Joseph, who batted .207 last season, completed the five-run onslaught with an RBI single off right-hander Chris Martin.

Right-hander Brad Brach (1-0) pitched two scoreless innings to get credit for the victory. Zach Britton pitched the ninth to earn his second consecutive save against the Yankees and his third of the season.

The Yankees fell to 3-6 on the season while the Orioles improved to 5-4.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • The Yankees finally are beginning to get some offense from Carlos Beltran. The 38-year-old outfielder gave the Yankees a 2-1 lead in the third inning when he followed a two-out double by Jacoby Ellsbury and a walk to Chase Headley with a two-run double to center off Orioles starter Bud Norris. Beltran is 4-for-15 (.286) in his past four games with two doubles and two RBIs.
  • The Yankees continue to consistent at-bats from Alex Rodriguez, who homered with one out in the fourth inning to give Eovaldi and the Yankees a 3-1 lead. It was Rodriguez’s second home run of the season and he finished the game 2-for-3 with a walk and he now hitting .286 on the season.
  • Eovaldi was far from perfect against the O’s but he battled hard to yield just two runs on eight hits and three walks. He pitched only one clean inning but his nine strikeouts prevented the Orioles from scoring any more runs. Though the 25-year-old right-hander needs to work on his command, he showed a lot of grit and deserved a better fate.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • The bullpen entered the evening with a 1.73 ERA, which ranked second in the American League. But it blew up in a hurry. Carpenter, 29, was the main culprit. Remember that Carpenter was 4-1 with a sparkling 1.78 ERA in 56 games with the Atlanta Braves in 2013. But he slipped to a 6-4 mark with a 3.54 ERA in 65 games last season. His line on Wednesday was three runs on two hits and a walk in one-third of an inning. Ouch!
  • Wilson, 27, is a similar story. He was 6-1 with a 2.08 ERA in 58 games with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2013 but he fell back to 3-4 with a 4.20 ERA in 70 games last season. Wilson yielded two runs on two hits while not retiring a batter. Double ouch!
  • Stephen Drew was only starter who did not get a hit or drive in a run in the game. He was 0-4 with two strikeouts and he grounded into a double play. After showing signs last week he may be coming back with the bat after his disastrous 2014 season, he is now batting .148.

BOMBER BANTER

The Yankees made yet another roster move to bolster the bullpen. The team recalled right-hander Branden Pinder from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and they optioned right-hander Joel De La Cruz to Double-A Trenton. De La Cruz, 25, did not appear in a game. Pinder, 26, was 0-0 with a 0.00 ERA in three games with the RailRiders. He pitched in the eighth inning on Wednesday and yielded no runs on one hit. The Yankees also announced that right-hander Kyle Davies, 31, cleared waivers and he was optioned to Scranton. Davies had been designated for assignment on Monday when the Yankees recalled De La Cruz.  . . .  Minor-league right-hander Wilking Rodriguez received an 80-game suspension without pay on Wednesday for a violation of the Minor League Drug Prevention and Treatment Program. Rodriguez, according to the commissioner’s office, tested positive for Furosemide, a performance-enhancing substance. Rodriguez, 25, was 1-0 with 0.00 ERA and two saves with the Yankees this spring and he was assigned to Scranton.

ON DECK

The Yankees have Thursday off and will begin a weekend series with the Tampa Bay Rays on Friday at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, FL.

Right-hander Adam Warren, 27, will open the series for the Yankees. Warren surrendered two runs (one earned) on five hits and two walks in 5 1/3 innings in a loss to the Boston Red Sox on Saturday.

The Rays will start 28-year-old right-hander Nathan Karns, who is 1-1 with a 4.97 ERA in two starts. Karns held the Miami Marlins to two runs (one earned) on two hits and two walks in seven innings in a victory on Sunday.

Game-time will be 7:10 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast nationally by the MLB Network and locally by the YES Network.

 

Orioles Stave Off Late Rally To Frustrate Yankees

GAME 8

ORIOLES 4, YANKEES 3

Adam Jones drove in two runs and Miguel Gonzalez limited the Yankees to one run while he struck out a career-high 10 batters as Baltimore withstood a late rally by New York to win on a shower-filled Tuesday evening at Oriole Park in Camden Yards.

The Orioles took an early 3-0 lead against left-hander CC Sabathia on a two-out solo home run by Jones in the first inning, a sacrifice fly RBI by Jones in the third and a costly two-out RBI double by Caleb Joseph in the fourth.

Gonzalez (1-1) limited the Yankees to just two hits until the sixth inning when Jacoby Ellsbury led off with a single, advanced to second on a wild pitch and scored on a two-out double by Mark Teixeira.

The Orioles added a run in the seventh on a leadoff triple by Joseph and sacrifice fly RBI off the bat of Everth Cabrera.

Sabathia (0-2) pitched well but still yielded four runs on seven hits and one walk while he struck out seven in seven innings.

Gonzalez, however, surrendered one run on four hits and one walk in seven innings to earn the victory.

The Yankees mounted a late rally against right-hander Kevin Gausman in the eighth when Didi Gregorius reached on a bloop single. After Alejandro De Aza made a running catch of Ellsbury’s opposite-field fly ball, Chase Headley singled to advance Gregorius to third.

Then second baseman Jonathan Schoop made a diving stop of Carlos Beltran’s ground ball to retire Beltran as Gregorius scored.

Then Teixiera lofted a fly ball into left that ticked off De Aza’s glove for an error and allowed Headley to score to cut the deficit to one run.

Orioles manager Buck Showalter was forced to bring his closer, left-hander Zach Britton, to quell the rally with the tying run on second.

Schoop made another running grab of Brian McCann’ roller into shallow right-field to end the rally.

Britton pitched a perfect ninth to earn his second save of the season.

The Yankees are now 3-5 on the season. The Orioles are 4-4.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Sabathia was plagued by an inability to pitch one clean inning. He was tagged by single hits in every inning he pitched except the fourth when he yielded two. Still, with all that, the Yankees’ inability to score him any runs doomed him despite his seven strikeouts. So you can say that Sabathia was outpitched but he was not outclassed.
  • Teixeira looks locked in at the plate in the early going. He drove in one run with a double and his fly ball did allow Headley to score. While most of the Yankees are struggling with the bat, Teixeira appears to be primed for a big season in the cleanup spot.
  • Beltran has been struggling to find his groove and yet he was 1-for-4 with an RBI and he hit the ball hard in each trip to the plate. His grounder in the eighth almost was a single and the play by Schoop that retired him saved the Orioles was the crucial play of the game.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • I am not a big fan of Garrett Jones. The veteran first baseman/outfielder struggled all through spring training and he has started the season off slowly as well. He was 0-for-3 with two strikeouts and he bounced back weakly to the pitcher in his first at-bat. He is hitting .154. Jones is being paid to hit right-hand pitching and if he doesn’t the Yankees will have to look elsewhere.
  • McCann looked as if he was getting hot and then he regressed on Tuesday by going 0-for-4 on four groundouts. The Yankees need McCann to deliver big numbers in power and RBIs this season. His at-bat against Britton in the eighth was critical and he failed to deliver.
  • Sabathia is a waste of space as a fielder. The Yankees had a potential double-play ball in the second inning off the bat of Chris Davis. Teixiera fielded it and he threw to Gregorius to retire Delmon Young, who had singled. But when Gregorius made the return throw to first, Sabathia failed to cover the bag. Second baseman Stephen Drew tried to cover but was late. Later that inning, Sabathia was charged with an error when his throw to retire Joseph hit the runner. Luckily he retired De Aza to end the inning without a run scoring. Once again, manager Joe Girardi needs to lay down the law on Sabathia to do his job.

BOMBER BANTER

Starting left-fielder Brett Gardner did not play on Tuesday and Girardi said he likely will serve as a defensive replacement and pinch-runner until Friday. Gardner was struck on the right wrist by a pitch from left-hander Wei-Yin Chen on Monday and he was forced to leave the game in the seventh inning.

ON DECK

The Yankees will try to win the series against the Orioles on Wednesday.

Right-hander Nathan Eovaldi will make his second start of the season for the Yankees. Eovaldi had a sensational spring but he had a bit of a hiccup in his first start against the Boston Red Sox on Friday. He was charged with three runs on eight hits and a walk while he struck out one in 5 1/3 innings of a game that lasted 19. The Red Sox won it, 6-5.

The Orioles will call on right-hander Bud Norris, who was gouged for eight runs on seven hits and one walk in just three innings by the Toronto Blue Jays on Friday. The Orioles say they are not concerned about Norris but he was 0-3 with a 9.26 ERA this spring.

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

 

Yankees Poised To Finish Third In A.L. East

With spring training in their rear-view mirror and the 2015 season about to start, the question is where will the New York Yankees finish in the American League East. The Yankees have failed to make the playoffs the past two seasons and many experts believe it will be three. But with the additions the Yankees made could they possibly have a surprise in store. Here is how I project it.

NEW YORK YANKEES

First of all, let’s admit that this is not your father’s A.L. East. There is NO dominant team in the division and there is not much separation between any of the five teams in terms of talent.

That said, the Yankees come into 2015 building around the foundation they began with their half-billion dollar investment last winter with the signings of outfielders Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran, catcher Brian McCann and right-handed pitcher Masahiro Tanaka.

Those free agents were added to the holdovers in shortstop Derek Jeter, first baseman Mark Teixeira, outfielder Brett Gardner and left-hander CC Sabathia.

General manager Brian Cashman actually started the rebuilding process for 2015 last summer by retaining a number of players they acquired around the trade deadline or later such as third baseman Chase Headley, second baseman Stephen Drew, outfielder Chris Young and left-hander Chris Capuano.

With the retirement of Jeter, the loss of free-agent closer David Robertson and right-hander’s Hiroki Kuroda’s decision to end his career pitching in his native Japan, Cashman was forced to shuffle the deck by using young pitchers like right-handers David Phelps and Shane Greene and left-hander Manny Banuelos to bring in right-hander Nathan Eovaldi, backup first baseman and outfielder Garrett Jones, starting shortstop Didi Gregorius and relievers David Carpenter and Chasen Shreve.

Cashman also used cash to lure free-agent left-hander Andrew Miller to bolster the bullpen around rookie sensation Dellin Betances.

The result is a team that features a starting lineup of eight players ranging in age from 31 to Alex Rodriguez at 39. The former starting third baseman is returning from a year-long performance-enhancing drug suspension to become the team’s designated hitter.

Only Gregarious at age 25 is considered young.

However, the rotation features a 26-year-old in Tanaka, a 26-year-old in Michael Pineda and a 25-year-old in Eovaldi. A spring injury to 36-year-old Capuano has thrust 27-year-old Adam Warren into the No. 5 slot. So the only pitcher over 27 in the Yankees rotation is Sabathia, who is 34. When is the last time you could say that about the Yankees’ rotation?

The bullpen will center around Betances, 26, and Miller, 28, who are  –  at least for now  –  going share the closing duties. If both pitch as they have up to now, it will be a very good shutdown pair because neither have been hit hard by righties or lefties.

The concern will be with the setup spots. Warren is in the rotation so the Yankees will be counting on the right-handed Carpenter, 29, and left-handed Justin Wilson, 27, who was acquired from the Pittsburgh Pirates with Cashman using the team’s catching surplus to deal away Francisco Cervelli.

If Carpenter and Wilson are successful, the bullpen will have a chance to be very good. If they fail, it could be a long season. Warren’s shift back to the bullpen with the return of both Capuano and right-hander Ivan Nova from Tommy John surgery in June can only be a big plus for the group.

Esmil Rogers, 29, will handle long relief. Shreve, 24, gives Girardi a third left-hander and 6-foot-8 right-hander Chris Martin has 95-mile-per-hour stuff that moves on an extreme downward plane. This trio looks solid and give Girardi credit for being a master of managing bullpens.

All spring long the Yankees struggled to score runs. It was not too much different from the way the offense struggled last season.

A pair of speed demons  –  Ellsbury and Gardner  –  are stacked on top of the lineup. The idea is to get them on base as much as possible and let them use their speed to get into scoring position for the middle of the lineup.

Both combined to steal 60 bases in what both players admittedly could call an off year. So they hope they can top 80 this season.

The whole strategy rests upon the middle of the order bouncing back from injuries and off years in 2015.

The third batter, Beltran, incurred painful bone chips in his right elbow and ended up posting the worst numbers of his career.

The cleanup hitter, Teixiera, was still limited by a sore right wrist and other injuries and posted only 22 home runs.

Although the fifth hitter, McCann, did crack 23 home runs and drive 78 runs, he only batted .232. So the Yankees would like him to hit closer to his career .272 average this season.

That is plenty of firepower but it seems like a fragile situation counting on Beltran, who will be 38 on April 24 and Teixeira, who will be 35 on April 11.

Behind McCann may be the one diamond-in-the-rough player who is primed for  huge season in Headley, 30, who hit 31 homers and drove in 115 runs for the San Diego Padres in 2012. Back issues have hampered him for the past two seasons but he seems healthy now.

He batted .305 with three homers and eight RBIs this spring and the former Gold Glove winner has been flashing some serious leather at third base.

It is unclear how much A-Rod will contribute from the DH spot. Rodriguez has not played more than 138 games since his Most Valuable Player season in 2007. Hip surgeries, nagging other ailments and the drug suspension have teamed with Father Time to make him an unknown quantity.

This spring, Rodriguez batted .267 with three homers and four RBIs and he did not look overmatched at the plate. But it is hard to know what A-Rod will provide until the bells rings on the regular season.

Nowhere did the Yankees look more vulnerable last season than at second base. After Robinson Cano took his power, his .300 average and his Gold Glove defensive skills to Seattle, the Yankees tried veteran Brian Roberts at the position.

But his batting and fielding skills eroded over four seasons of injuries and the Yankees cut him loose in July in favor of Drew, who had never played second base in the pro baseball. Drew also was dealing with a season-long hitting slump that saw him bat only .162 between the Boston Red Sox and the Yankees.

Drew started this spring very slowly but emerged to bat over .470 in the final three weeks with three home runs. Drew has been working with the Yankees’ new hitting coach Jeff Petland and it seems to have been paying some dividends. The Yankees would settle for Drew batting .250 or so with 15 homers and 65 RBIs this season. Those had been norms for Drew in his previous seasons.

Though it was sad to see the 20-year era of Jeter’s career at shortstop come to an end, the Yankees are very hopeful they have an emerging star in the making in Gregorius.

What fans immediately saw this spring is that Gregorius has outstanding range, great hands and an powerful and accurate arm. The Yankees believe his defense will be upgrade since Jeter’s range had been so limited the past several years.

Jeter batted .256 in his final season and the Yankees hope that Gregorius can possibly top that average this season largely batting ninth. When Gregorius was in Arizona, manager Kirk Gibson benched him against left-handers because he has batted only .150 in his career against them.

But the Yankees allowed him to hit against left-handers this spring and Gregorius did not seem to look bad against them. So, for now, Girardi is content with playing his young shortstop every day.

The bench is solid and features power-hitting right-hander Young and power-hitting left-hander Jones. Young, 31, had an exceptional spring and he brings athleticism to all three outfield spots he plays and a potential deadly bat against left-handed pitching.

Jones, 33, hit 15 homers for the Miami Marlins last season and he seems to have the perfect swing for Yankee Stadium. Jones will primarily back up Teixeira at first and he can also play the corner outfield spots, if needed.

Backup infielder Brendan Ryan, 33, had a spring he would rather forget. First, he was delayed at the start with a back injury he sustained lifting weights. After he returned, Ryan ended up pulling a right calf muscle last week and he will start the season on the disabled list.

Ryan brings a slick glove to second, shortstop and third base  –  although short is where he really shines in the field. But he can’t hit a lick. He has no power and he is a career .234 hitter.

The Yankees obtained infielder Gregorio Petit from the Houston Astros in exchange for cash in the last week of the spring. So Petit, 30, will assume Ryan’s role despite having played on only 62 major-league games with the Oakland Athletics and the Astros. He has batted .278 in just 151 at-bats. He will be a stopgap until Ryan is healthy again.

John Ryan Murphy, 23, managed to hold off a challenge from veteran Austin Romine this spring to remain the backup to McCann. Murphy batted .284 with a homer and nine RBIs in 32 games last season and the Yankees rave about his defense behind the plate.

But the biggest secret the Yankees are carrying with them now lies in the young players they were able to showcase this spring. For the first time in a very long time the Yankees have a number of very good prospects and some positional depth at the minor-league level that could be factors this season.

But the promise is even brighter longer term.

Right-handed starters Luis Severino and Domingo German (obtained in the trade for Phelps and Martin Prado) and left-handed starter Ian Clarkin along with left-handed reliever Jacob Lindgren and right-handed relievers Nick Rumbelow and Jose Ramirez are in the pipeline and moving quickly to the majors.

Second basemen Rob Refsnyder and Jose Pirela tore the cover off the ball this spring and their presence at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre is just a taste of what is the horizon with outfielders Slade Heathcott and Ramon Flores also knocking on the door.

Right-hander Chase Whitley, 25, had a 1.17 ERA this spring and he still not crack the bullpen. You have to figure he is going to get a call-up to the 25-man roster at some point. Keep an eye also on Bryan Mitchell, who will be 24 this month. Mitchell drew rave reviews when he fanned Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez back-to-back in a five-inning effort in a split-squad game in Lakeland, FL, on April 2.

At Double-A Trenton will be prospects such as outfielder Aaron Judge and first baseman Greg Bird, both of whom looked undaunted by major-league pitching this spring.

Catching prospect Gary Sanchez, 23, is also not too far away from contributing in the major leagues.

Though Yankee fans and the Yankee front office never has shown much patience with its young prospects in the past, this group might just force the front office to use them and perhaps the revolving door of signing aging free agents will finally end.

Should the Yankees falter as what so many experts are predicting this season. The young players who are on the way could be a foundation to build around, It is there to see. It is just up to Cashman and the Yankee front office not to screw it up.

Here now is my brief assessment of the other four teams in the division and my prediction for the order of finish in 2015.

BALTIMORE ORIOLES

This is a team that ran away with this division last season. But it is hard to see them as a “great” team.

Their ace is a very pedestrian Chris Tillman. Their offense lost outfielders Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis. They also are likely to be without Matt Wieters to start the season as he recovers from Tommy John surgery on his right elbow. Ditto for shortstop J.J. Hardy, who has left shoulder injury.

With all that they still have Adam Jones, Manny Machado and they are really hoping that Chris Davis recovers his home-run stroke.

Though Tillman is not a true ace they do have Wei-Yin Chen, Miguel Gonzales and Bud Norris to form a solid foursome. The bullpen with closer Zach Britton and setup guys Darren O’Day and Tommy Hunter is top notch.

They also have one of the best managers in baseball in Buck Showalter. So in Baltimore there is hope the O’s can repeat.

A lot depends on how new outfielders Alejandro De Aza and Travis Snider do to make up for the losses of Cruz and Markakis.

BOSTON RED SOX

This team flopped in 2014 and yet many are picking them to win the title in 2015.

Most of that is based on their offense. To Dustin Pedroia, David Ortiz and Mike Napoli, the Red Sox have added Hanley Ramirez, Mookie Betts and Pablo Sandoval.

They are also hoping for better seasons and health from Xander Bogaerts and Shane Victorino.

However, it is hard to look at the rotation and see anything but potential disaster.

Clay Buchholz was 8-11 with a 6.34 ERA and is considered the ace. Rick Porcello did have a 15-13 record and a 3.43 ERA with the Tigers. But Justin Masterson was 7-9 with a 5.88 with the Cleveland Indians and the St. Louis Cardinals.

Lefty Wade Miley was 8-12 with a 4.34 ERA for the Arizona Diamondbacks. A better offense will help him but he is not anything close to Jon Lester, who the Red Sox traded last season and were unable to re-sign as a free agent.

No. 5 starter Joe Kelly (6-4, 4.20 ERA with the Cardinals) starts the season on the disabled list with right bicep injury. In addition, closer Koji Uehara, who just turned 40, is also on the disabled list with a hamstring injury so Edward Mujica and his 49 career saves are it for now.

There is no doubt that the Red Sox will be capable of scoring runs. The question is will it be enough runs to cover a pitching staff and an underbelly of a bullpen that could really exploited?

Add that up to the fact that catcher Christian Vazquez is out for the season to undergo Tommy John surgery on his right elbow and you have enough doubts about the Red Sox to make it unlikely they are a good choice to win this division.

The Toronto Blue Jays tried this approach last season and it did not work.

TAMPA BAY RAYS

This team seemingly lost everything so quickly that their home radio station, WDAE, is not very enthusiastic about them.

Manager Joe Maddon and his screwy ideas that seem to work on shifting is gone. General manager Andrew Friedman, who introduced sabermetrics and advanced scouting techniques to the organization that built this team, is also gone.

The team’s best pitcher in David Price was traded last season and now is pitching for the Detroit Tigers. Their second-best pitcher, Matt Moore, is not expected back until June because he is recovering from Tommy John surgery.

This spring they incurred injuries to their best remaining pitcher Alex Cobb. Their closer, Jake McGee, will miss the first month.

They also traded away offensive contributors such as Wil Myers, Ben Zobrist, Yunel Escobar and Matt Joyce.

The team’s offense can be wrapped up in third baseman Evan Longoria and a lot of hope and praying.

They are counting on production out of rookie outfielder Steven Souza Jr., who batted .130 this spring and shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera, who the Indians discarded saying he could not play shortstop and he was not the hitter he was in 2011 (25 home runs and 92 RBIs).

They are still hoping that Desmond Jennings just shows one little spark of the long-departed Carl Crawford. But it is not looking like it will happen.

This could amount to one of the weakest hitting teams in baseball in 2015 and it could be worse without Maddon running the show.

Granted, Cobb, Moore, Chris Archer and Jake Odorizzi could form a solid rotation when they are all healthy. The question is can the Rays tread water long enough to see that happen?

Though McGee, Grant Balfour and Brad Boxberger form a solid trio at the back of the bullpen, the Rays are counting on a pair of former failed relievers in Kevin Jepsen and Ernesto Frieri to help out in the middle innings.

They also do not have a decent lefty beyond McGee. Ouch!

After many years of dealing with their obnoxious cowbell-ringing fans  –  all of about 7,000 of them a game  –  it appears that the bloom is off the rose and the cowbells will eventually fall silent this season unless there is some sort of miracle new manager Kevin Cash can create.

TORONTO BLUE JAYS

This was the sexy choice to win the division in 2014. Funny thing is, I would have selected them to win this season if young right-hander Marcus Stroman did suffer knee injury that will force him to miss the entire season.

Stroman would have formed a nice 1-2 punch with right-hander Drew Hutchison, who at 24 has progressed so much as a pitcher he is starting on Opening Day ahead of Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey and veteran Mark Buehrle.

To that they have added a pair of young pitchers in left-hander Daniel Norris and right-hander Aaron Sanchez, who looked to be the team’s closer in waiting until the team opted to use him as a starter instead.

The bullpen is untested but it has closer Brett Cecil. There is a lot untested pitchers in the mix behind him but 20-year-old Miguel Castro may end being something special as he gets his feet wet in the majors.

Like the Red Sox, the Blue Jays never have to worry about scoring runs. Add to the thundering power of Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion the bat of third baseman Josh Donaldson, who hit 29 home runs and drove in 98 runs for the Athletics in their cavernous ballpark.

You would think Donaldson will love the Rogers Centre.

Though the Jays will miss line-drive machine Melky Cabrera, they still have Jose Reyes and they have also added catcher Russell Martin, who can hit 20 homers and run a pitching staff like a pitching coach.

So there is a lot to like.

The question is after losing Adam Lind and Colby Rasmus the Blue Jays are trotting a pair of young outfielders in Dalton Pompey (center) and Kevin Pillar (left). Much of what the Blue Jays do will revolve around what they do.

They also have a new second baseman in Devon Travis.

It is hard to pick a team to win with so many new players in the lineup like Pillar, Pompey and Travis. This team is carrying six rookies!

But the real test of how the Blue Jays do in 2015 will hinge on its pitching staff. Stroman was a much bigger loss than I think the Blue Jays can overcome.

PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH

1) BALTIMORE ORIOLES (92-70)

2) TORONTO BLUE JAYS (86-76)

3) NEW YORK YANKEES (84-78)

4) BOSTON RED SOX (80-82)

5) TAMPA BAY RAYS (76-86)  Hello Montreal!

The Orioles will fall back to the pack but not enough to make much difference. The Blue Jays actually could have won it with Stroman, but now they will fall short and they will not win the wildcard either. I was tempted to pick the Yankees for second because Tanaka, Pineda and Eovaldi are all primed for excellent seasons. But the offense this spring was woefully lacking and it looks as if they will lose a lot of 4-3 and 3-2 games unless make a deal for a young slugger like Giancarlo Stanton. The Yankees just do not have that stud in the middle of the order and it will hurt. The Red Sox will be the Red Flops mainly because their pitching is not as good as people believe it is. Their bullpen also is much weaker without Miller. About all that the “Kung Fu Panda” Sandoval is good for is twining with Ortiz to advertise for a doughnut shop. Ramirez is talented but he also is moody and can give up when things are not going well. Ask the Marlins and Dodgers. As for the Rays, their collapse could not have come at a worse time for them when attendance and TV viewership is dropping. The owner wants to have a new stadium built despite the fact that they are tied to dumpy and ugly Tropicana Field for many more years. That is why it is inevitable that the team will be sold and shifted to another city like Montreal soon. Tre bien!

Beltran’s Belated Blast Boosts Bombers By Birds

GAME 72

YANKEES 5, ORIOLES 3

After he was activated from the disabled list on June 5, Carlos Beltran hit .171 through June 18. Then on Thursday Beltran showed signs of coming around with the bat by driving in two runs and one of those RBIs coming on a ground-rule double.

Well, on Friday there can be no doubt that Beltran is back to the old form that allowed him to make eight National League All-Star teams.

With two out and two on and the Yankees trailing by one run in the ninth, Beltran clobbered a high 3-1 fastball from left-hander Zach Britton and sent it majestically to the back of the lower-level bleachers in left-field as New York scored four runs in the frame to take a sure victory away from Baltimore.

As Beltran rounded third base, most of the paid Yankee Stadium crowd of 46,197 were on their feet cheering as Beltran’s teammates greeted him exuberantly at home plate thankful for the team’s first walk-off home run of the season and Beltran’s first since June 11, 2008 with the New York Mets.

“It really means a lot for us right now,” Beltran told reporters after he received a Gatorade shower from his teammates. “We’re playing against teams that are in our division, so it’s important.”

The Yankees have now won four consecutive games  –  all against division opponents  –  and they have won eight of their past 10 games to move to a season-high six games over the .500 mark.

The improbable rally began when Brett Gardner led off with a single against Britton (3-1), who entered the contest having only blown one save in 10 chances this season.

Things then looked bleak for the Yankees when Britton struck out Derek Jeter looking and retired Jacoby Ellsbury on a routine fly ball to center.

However, Mark Teixeira drew a walk and was replaced by pinch-runner Kelly Johnson. Then Brian McCann came through with an RBI single to center to score Gardner. McCann then was replaced by pinch-runner Francisco Cervelli.

That set up Beltran’s dramatic home run off Britton.

Up to that point it had been a pretty frustrating evening for the Yankees.

Despite the fact that right-hander Hiroki Kuroda held the Orioles hitless for the first five innings and Orioles starter Ubaldo Jimenez gave up six hits and walked six batters, the Yankees found themselves trailing from the sixth inning on.

The Yankees held an early 1-0 lead thanks to a two-out single in the first inning by Ellsbury, who later stole second. Teixeira then brought Ellsbury home with a double into the right-field corner.

However, the Yankees’ offense failed to take advantage of chances to score that Jimenez provided them.

The Yankees loaded the bases off Jimenez in the second, the fifth and the sixth innings. Yet they could not push across a run.

Gardner hit a fly ball to center with the bases loaded and one out in the second but center-fielder Adam Jones was able to cut down Beltran at home plate for a double play that ended the inning.

Teixeira bounced out to first with the bases loaded in the fifth and left-hander T.J. McFarland, who replaced Jimenez when he walked the bases loaded after getting the first two outs in the sixth, was able to retire Gardner on a groundout.

Jimenez was charged with one run on six hits and six walks while he fanned three in 5 2/3 innings.

Kuroda, however, was unable to keep the Orioles off the board in the sixth.

Nick Hundley broke up Kuroda’s no-hitter with a leadoff double to right-center and, one out later, Steve Pearce doubled to left to score Hundley. Jones gave the Orioles the lead with an RBI single to right.

Kuroda yielded two runs on four hits and one walk while he struck six in six innings.

The game remained 2-1 until the Orioles were able to tack on what looked to be a key insurance run in the ninth inning off left-hander David Huff.

Pinch-hitter Jonathan Schoop led off with a ground ball that was misplayed by third baseman Yanjgrevis Solarte for an error. Hundley advanced Schoop to second with a sacrifice bunt.

Nick Markakis moved Schoop to third when his ground ball struck Huff’s foot and caromed away for a single. Pearce then plated Schoop with a lined single to center.

Huff (2-0) was credited with the victory despite giving up the run. However, the run was unearned due to Solarte’s error.

With the victory the Yankees improved to 39-33 and they remain 1 1/2 games behind the first-place Toronto Blue Jays, who the Yankees had swept just before opening the series with the O’s. The Orioles trail the Yankees by two games and they are 37-35.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Beltran, 37, batted .296 with 24 homers and 84 RBIs for the National League-champion St. Louis Cardinals last season. So anyone could understand he was not going to finish the season batting .218 as he was for the Yankees on June 18. The Yankees signed Beltran to a three-year contract to be a force in the middle of the lineup with his power and production. After missing 21 games with a bone spur in his right elbow and a slow start when he first came back, Beltran appears primed to provide big numbers the rest of the way.
  • Beltran’s heroics overshadowed McCann’s RBI single that preceded the walk-off home run. McCann was 2-for-5 in the game and, like Beltran, he appears to ready to start contributing with the bat after a dreadful 2 1/2 months of hitting in the .220s. Despite the fact that McCann is hitting .226, his RBI single in the ninth tied him for the team lead in RBIs with Teixiera with 34.
  • Kuroda deserved a much better fate. He yielded two runs in six innings and was handed a no decision because the offense could not come through with a big hit against Jimenez when they had so many chances, In the past four games, Yankees starters have now given up just seven runs in 24 innings for a sparkling 2.63 ERA.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

If the team had lost I would had a lot of negatives. There was just no excuse for scoring just one run on Jimenez. But they rallied in the ninth and this was a “statement” victory. The Yankees seem to be riding the crest of a wave right now and it is coming while they are playing teams within their division.

BOMBER BANTER

Johnson was held out the starting lineup on Friday nursing sore fingers on his left hand. Johnson injured himself attempting a sacrifice bunt in the sixth inning against the Blue Jays on Thursday. As he attempted the bunt, the ball struck Johnson’s fingers and he left the game in favor of Solarte. Though Johnson pinch-ran in the ninth, he is listed as day-to-day.  . . .  Brian Roberts, 36, singled in the second inning off Jimenez for the 1,500th hit of his career. The milestone came against the team for which he played from 2001 through 2013.

ON DECK

The Yankees will continue their weekend series with the Orioles on Saturday.

Left-hander Vidal Nuno (1-3, 5.90 ERA) will start for the Yankees with his spot in the rotation on very shaky ground. Nuno served up a pair of three-run homers in the first and second innings in a 10-5 loss to the Oakland Athletics on Sunday and he has not won a game since May 7.

Right-hander Bud Norris (6-5, 3.73 ERA) will pitch for the Birds. Norris held the Blue Jays to one run on seven hits and one walk in seven innings on Saturday to win his third straight game. He has not faced the Yankees this season.

Game-time will be 1:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast nationally by the MLB Network and locally by the YES Network.

 

Jeter Helps Yanks Down O’s In Final Home Opener

GAME 7

YANKEES 4, ORIOLES 2

On a cold and gusty afternoon in the Bronx, the Yankees reunited the “Core Four” to throw out a pair of ceremonial Opening Day pitches at Yankee Stadium. Andy Pettitte threw to Jorge Posada and Mariano Rivera did the same to Derek Jeter, who will join the other three in retirement at the end of the season.

Then Jeter took the field for his final home opener and cracked a double and scored a run to help lead New York to a victory over the Baltimore Orioles in front of a sellout crowd of 48,142.

Hiroki Kuroda (1-1) held the Orioles to just two runs on eight hits and no walks while he fanned four to pick up his first victory of the season.

The Yankees, meanwhile, made Orioles right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez (0-2) throw strikes to run up his pitch count to 109 in less than five innings.

The Yankees took a 1-0 lead in the third inning when Yangervis Solarte drew a leadoff walk and Brett Gardner advanced him to third with a single to center. Jeter then rapped into a double play that allowed Solarte to score.

The Orioles tied it in the fourth when Adam Jones singled and advanced to second on a flyout off the bat of Chris Davis. He then scored on an RBI single by Matt Wieters.

But the Yankees reclaimed the lead for good in their half of the fourth when Alfonso Soriano stroked a one-out single and Kelly Johnson drew a two-out walk. Solarte, who came into the game leading the team in RBIs with five, then slapped a single to right to score Soriano.

The Yankees added a pair of runs and chased Jimenez from the game in the fifth.

Jeter led off the frame with a high arcing drive to left that Jeter thought was a home run. However, the ball hit just below the top of the wall and Jeter had to scramble into second to beat a relay throw from left-fielder David Lough.

Jacoby Ellsbury then looped the next pitch into right-center to score Jeter.

After Ellsbury was thrown out attempting to steal second, Carlos Beltran singled. One batter later, Soriano singled and Jimenez walked Brian Roberts to load the bases.

Orioles manager Buck Showalter removed Jimenez and called in left-hander Zach Britton.

Johnson then drew another walk on to score Beltran to give the Yankees a 4-1 lead.

Jimenez was charged with four runs on eight hits and five walks while he struck out four in 4 2/3 innings.

The Orioles did mount a rally in the seventh off Kuroda when Davis led off with a double. Wieters followed with a bloop single to advance Davis to third and Nelson Cruz singled to score Davis.

However, Kuroda retired Steve Lombardozzi on a line out to left and relievers Matt Thornton and David Phelps retired Ryan Flaherty and Jonathan Schoop, respectively, to end the threat.

Kuroda yielded two runs on eight hits and no walks and he struck out four in 6 1/3 innings.

Adam Warren hurled a scoreless eighth and Shawn Kelley pitched a perfect ninth to earn his first career save.

With the victory, the Yankees moved over the .500 mark for the first time this season at 4-3. The Orioles fell to 2-5.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • It seems that in every game he plays Solarte does something to help the team win. Today he was 1-for-3 with a walk, a run scored and an RBI. On the season the 26-year-old rookie from Venezuela is 9-for-20 (.450) with four doubles and six RBIs. In the eighth, Solarte cranked a high drive off right-hander Ryan Webb that looked to be home run to right-field. However, the wind held it up and Nick Markakis caught it just in front of the wall.
  • Soriano entered the game 1-for-19 after beginning the season 0-for-17. But he was 2-for-3 with a walk and a run scored in the game and he looks to be coming out of his early-season funk.  Soriano had been swinging at pitches that were bouncing in the dirt.
  • Despite looking shaky in the seventh inning, Kuroda actually pitched a very good game. In his two starts Kuroda has given up four runs on 11 hits and one walk while he struck out nine in 12 1/3 innings. Kuroda gave up only two runs to the Astros last Wednesday but got no run support and ended up losing the game. He got some run support on Monday and he won.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • Brian McCann was 0-for-4 in the game and he is 5-for-25 (.200) with no homers and two RBIs this season. Despite the slow start at the plate, McCann is playing well defensively. In the fifth inning he picked off Schoop straying too far away from second base to end the inning.

BOMBER BANTER

The season is just one week old and the Yankees have now suffered their second significant injury. The Yankees will have to place closer David Robertson on the 15-day disabled list with a Grade 1 strain of his left groin, manager Joe Girardi told reporters on Monday. Robertson sustained the injury on Sunday closing out the Yankees’ 6-4 victory in Toronto against the Blue Jays. Kelley, who closed out Monday’s victory over the Orioles will assume the closer’s role. The Yankees could recall either left-hander Cesar Cabral or right-hander Shane Greene to take Robertson’s spot on the roster.  . . .  Mark Teixeira, who is on the 15-day disabled list with a Grade 1 strain of his right hamstring, was cleared on Monday to begin an exercise program on Tuesday. Teixeira hopes to be able to return on April 19, the day when he is first eligible to come off the DL.  . . .  The Yankees announced on Monday that they have traded infielder Eduardo Nunez to the Minnesota Twins in exchange for 20-year-old minor-league left-hander Miguel Sulbaran. Nunez was designated for assignment on March 31 after the Yankees elected to make room on the 40-man roster for Solarte. Sulbaran is 21-10 with a 3.15 ERA in 55 games (45 starts) in the minors. The Twins assigned Nunez to Triple-A Rochester.

ON DECK

The Yankees will continue their three-game home-opening series with the Orioles on Tuesday.

Right-hander Ivan Nova (1-0, 3.18 ERA) will start for the Yankees coming off a victory over the Astros on April 3. Nova won despite giving up six hits, walking five and hitting two batters in 5 2/3 innings of work. Nova used four double plays to hold the Astros to only two runs.

Nova will be opposed by left-hander Wei-Yin Chen (0-1, 6.35 ERA), who was blasted for four runs on 12 hits in 5 2/3 innings in a loss to the Boston Red Sox last Wednesday. He is 0-2 with a 4.86 ERA in three career starts at Yankee Stadium.

Game-time will be 1:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast nationally by the MLB Network and locally by the YES Network.

 

Granderson’s 5 RBIs Fuel Yankees’ Rout Of Birds

GAME 140

YANKEES 13, ORIOLES 3

When you are talking about the New York Yankees since their season pinnacle on July 18 until now, it has been the proverbial one step forward and two steps back. But on Sunday their slumping bats awoke to take a giant leap forward and the Baltimore Orioles paid the price by allowing the Bronx Bombers to leave Oriole Park at Camden Yards in first place in the American League East.

Curtis Granderson has been so horrible at the plate that he was benched to start the game. But he came off the bench with a vengeance as a pinch-hitter in the sixth inning to swat the first pitch he saw into the Orioles’ bullpen in left-center. He ended the day with five RBIs to lead a relentless 14-hit attack on Oriole pitching as New York salvaged a split of their four-game battle for supremacy in the division.

It was the Yankees’ biggest blowout victory of the season and it could not have come at a much better time.

Joba Chamberlain (1-0) pitched 1 2/3 innings of scoreless relief while striking out four of the five batters he retired to earn the victory.

Meanwhile, Oriole left-hander Zach Britton (5-2) found control to be an elusive thing in the fourth inning and he was saddled with the loss.

Britton perhaps got an inkling of how frustrating the day would be when Derek Jeter opened the contest with a infield single and he advanced to second on a throwing error by third baseman Manny Machado. Britton then walked Nick Swisher.

Alex Rodriguez stopped the momentum a bit by hitting into a double play but Britton then served up an RBI single to Robinson Cano.

In the fourth, Britton found that his sinker was sinking out of the strike zone and he paid dearly for it.

Rodriguez singled to begin the inning and Britton then walked Cano and Russell Martin to load the bases.

Steve Pearce then drew a bases-loaded walk to score Rodriguez to make 2-0. After Andruw Jones struck out, Jayson Nix hit a dying quail single into shallow center to score Cano. Ichiro Suzuki followed with a “Baltimore-chop” to shortstop J.J. Hardy and Suzuki beat out Hardy’s throw to first to score Martin.

Britton then ended his day appropriately by issuing a bases-loaded walk to Jeter that made it 5-0.

Britton gave up five runs on five hits and five walks and struck out two in 3 1/3 innings.

However, the Yankees were unable to savor their four-run inning for long because starter Freddy Garcia stumbled in the bottom of the inning.

Garcia walked Nate McLouth and then hit Hardy with a pitch. Wilson Betemit followed with a two-run double to center and, one out later, Matt Wieters plated Betemit with a single to right.

Manager Joe Girardi, showing the veteran Yankee right-hander one of the shortest leashes of the season, removed Garcia in favor of Chamberlain to keep the game at 5-3.

The Yankee bullpen of Chamberlain, Boone Logan, Cory Wade and Derek Lowe threw 4 2/3 innings of scoreless baseball, surrendering just one hit and two walks the rest of the way.

At the same time, the Yankees continued to pile on the runs in front of a paid crowd of 40,346.

Granderson, who has been benched the past two games mired in a 5-for-43 (.116) slump, then teed off on Jake Arrieta’s first offering in the sixth inning for his 35th home run of the season and his 100th home run with the Yankees.

Granderson later really broke the game open with a two-run single in the seventh that ran the score to 8-3 and he and Jeter keyed a five-run eighth inning that buried the Orioles and sent their new-found bandwagon fans home disappointed.

Jeter blasted a two-run home run, his 15th of the season, off Kevin Gregg and Granderson later added a two-run double.

The Yankees ran their record against the Orioles this season to 9-9 and they are 79-61 on the season. The Orioles are 78-62.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Granderson’s 3-for-3 day with a homer, a double and five RBIs was a welcome sight for fans who were growing disgusted with him swinging and missing at breaking pitches in the dirt or out of the strike zone. Granderson is the team’s leading home run hitter and, in order to have a shot at the playoffs, he has got to start producing better. Sunday was a nice first step.
  • Chamberlain has never looked better and perhaps has turned the corner in his comeback from Tommy John surgery. Chamberlain reached as high as 97 miles per hour on his fastball and, even better, he had command on the location of it. It is the first time Chamberlain has struck out four batters in an outing since his electric rookie season in 2007.
  • Jeter was 2-for-4 with a home run and three RBIs. Jeter is batting .324 this season, which third in the American League. He trails Mike Trout of the Angels by .004 and he could possibly win his first batting title at age 38.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • Garcia’s magical run as a starter may be over. He has failed to pitch five innings in three of his last four starts and he is 0-1 with a 7.64 ERA in those four starts. With Ivan Nova poised to return to the rotation and Andy Pettitte right behind him, Garcia likely will not start another game this season. He is 7-6 with a 5.19 ERA overall.
  • Swisher is in a worse slump than Granderson. He was 0-for-4 with a walk and a strikeout on Sunday and he is now hitless in his last 28 at-bats. His batting average has dipped from .271 to .255 in that span. The question is with the team in a pennant fight can they afford to bench him?
  • Jones has also fallen on hard times and he was 0-for-2 with a strikeout on Sunday. He is now batting .202. Teams are beating the bushes to toss left-handers at the Yankees because it neutralizes lefty hitters like Cano and Gramderson and benches Raul Ibanez and Eric Chavez. Jones’ ineptitude at the plate has been a big bonus for the opposing teams.

BOMBER BANTER

Mark Teixeira is scheduled to undergo an MRI in New York on Monday and it is possible he may miss the final 3 1/2 weeks of the season. Teixeira re-aggravated his left calf injury while unsuccessfully trying to beat out a double-play grounder that ended Saturday’s game against the Orioles. Girardi said he would use Swisher and Pearce at first base to replace Teixeira.  . . .  Pettitte is scheduled to throw a side session on Monday at Yankee Stadium and he hopes to be cleared to continue his comeback from a fractured left ankle. If the team physician clears him, Pettitte will then throw a simulated game of about 60 pitches and then could be activated off the disabled list.

ON DECK

The Yankees have earned a day off on Monday before resuming their pennant chase on Tuesday at Fenway Park against the Boston Red Sox.

Right-hander Hiroki Kuroda (13-10, 3.14 ERA) will open the series for the Yankees. Kuroda gave up four runs on eight hits and two walks and struck out three in six innings in a victory over the Tampa Bay Rays in his last start. Kuroda is 1-1 with a 3.45 ERA against the Bosox this season.

The struggling Red Sox will counter with left-hander Jon Lester (9-11, 4.99 ERA). Lester surrendered three runs on nine hits over six innings in a victory over the Seattle Mariners. Lester is 1-1 with a 4.67 ERA in three starts against the Yankees this season.

Game-time will be 7:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast nationally by the MLB Network and locally by MY9.

 

Yankees Drown Sorrows With Deluge On Orioles

GAME 104

YANKEES 12, ORIOLES 3

Suffering through a miserable four-game losing streak is like a farmer suffering though a horrendous drought. But the Yankees, like the down-on-his-luck farmer, got the benefit of some rain at Yankee Stadium on Wednesday and they then showered the Baltimore Orioles with a torrent of runs that finally drowned their closest American League East pursuer.

Robinson Cano blasted a grand-slam home run and Derek Jeter drove in three runs as New York used a seven-run third inning to deliver a thrashing to a Baltimore team that was benefitting in the standings from the Yankees recent 3-8 slide in their last 11 games.

Phil Hughes (11-8) scattered nine hits, walked two and struck out two in giving up just one run in six solid innings in a game played in front of a paid crowd of 44,593 despite the fact that they had to sit through a steady downpour throughout the contest. Hughes is 6-3 with a 2.88 ERA in his last 10 starts and he now leads the team’s starters in victories.

The Orioles only scored off Hughes on a pair of one-out singles by Wilson Betemit and Mark Reynolds and an RBI groundout by Endy Chavez in the second inning, which at the time halved the Yankees’ lead at 2-1.

Meanwhile, Hughes’ counterpart, Zach Britton (1-1), seemed afraid to throw a fastball anywhere near the strike zone. Britton lasted just 2 2/3 innings and was tagged for seven runs on seven hits and three walks while he struck out three batters.

In his three career starts in New York, Britton has totaled just eight innings, giving up 20 runs (17 earned). That is a 19.13 ERA.

He gave up two runs in each of the first two innings. Curtis Granderson smacked his 29th home run of the season in the opening frame and Andruw Jones later scored in the inning on a Nick Swisher sacrifice fly.

In the second, Jeter stroked an RBI single to score newly acquired corner infielder Casey McGehee, who was making his Yankee debut. Swisher later made it 4-1 with a RBI single to left to score Jayson Nix.

Britton’s bad day ended in the third when Nix stroked an RBI double to the wall in left-center to score Russell Martin and McGehee to give the Yankees a 5-1 lead.

Orioles manager Buck Showalter brought in Kevin Gregg to face Jeter, but Jeter greeted Gregg with a two-run single to right. After Granderson singled and Swisher drew a four-pitch walk to load the bases, Cano launched a rocket into the second deck in right for the Yankees’ major-league best ninth grand slam of the season and Cano’s second.

The game was pretty much over at that point and many in the crowd left soon after.

The Yankees added a run in the eighth on a bases-loaded sacrifice fly by McGehee off reliever Tommy Hunter.

The Orioles scored single runs in the seventh and eighth off recently activated righty-hander Joba Chamberlain, who was pitching in his first game since June 5, 2011 due to Tommy John surgery on his right elbow last season and a displaced broken right ankle in March.

J.J. Hardy greeted Chamberlain with a leadoff home run in the seventh and the Orioles tacked on a run in the eighth when Chavez doubled off the wall in left to score Reynolds from first base.

Chamberlain, showing signs of a lack of velocity on his fastball, surrendered two runs on four hits and a walk with no strikeouts in his 1 2/3 innings of work.

With the victory, the Yankees improved their season ledger to 61-43 and pushed their lead over the O’s in the division back to 6 1/2 games. The Orioles are 55-50.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Though Hughes gave up nine hits in 6 innings, those totals are a bit misleading because he Orioles did not hit the ball hard that often off Hughes. Most of their hits were bloop or broken-bat hits that fell in perfect spots in the wet outfield. The Orioles could not have thrown them into better spots. Hughes used a pair of double plays and some excellent defense from his teammates to keep the O’s from climbing back into the game.
  • Cano was in an o-for-14 funk entering play on Tuesday. In the final two games of the three-game series, Cano went 3-for-6 with two home runs and six RBIs. He now has 24 home runs, which is second on the team to Granderson, and 62 RBIs, which second on the club to Mark Teixeira.
  • Jeter’s three-hit game give him 137 hits on the season, which is most in the American League. In his last seven games, Jeter is 13-for-30 (.433), which has raised his season average to .316 and moved him ahead of Cano (.312) for the best batting average on the team.
  • Nix, making a spot start at third base against a left-handed starter, took advantage with a 3-for-4 game, including a double, two runs scored and an RBI. Nix has five hits in his last 11 at-bats and has driven in six runs in that span. He had only seven RBIs in limited play up to that point.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

After losing eight of 11 games I am not going nitpick this victory. The team could have easily lost and brought the Orioles to within 4 1/2 games of the lead, Instead, they moved them back to 6 1/2 games back. Hughes pitched well again and the team was 7-for-13 with runners in scoring position.

BOMBER BANTER

McGehee, 29, was acquired in a last-minute trade deadline deal with the Pirates for right-hander Chad Qualls on Tuesday. He arrived on late Tuesday and started the game at first base in place of Teixeira, who is nursing a sore left wrist. McGehee was 0-2 but walked twice, scored two runs and drove in a run on a sac fly in the eighth. Manager Joe Girardi said the veteran corner infielder would backup at first base and also will get some starts at third base until Alex Rodriguez returns off the 15-day disabled list from a broken left hand.  . . .  Ichiro Suzuki made his first major-league regular-season game start in left-field and made a spectacular leaping catch at the wall in the sixth inning on a ball off the bat of Reynolds, which saved a run from scoring. Suzuki also extended his hitting streak to nine games with an infield single in the fourth inning.  . . .  Swisher was used as the designated hitter on Wednesday, which means he has not played right-field July 20, when he left a game at o.co Stadium in Oakland with a sore left hip flexor. Girardi said Swisher could start in right-field on Friday. Jones played right-field on Wednesday and was 1-for-3 with a sac fly RBI.

ON DECK

The Yankees will get a well-earned day off after suffering through a spate of key injuries and losses lately. They will open a three-game weekend home series with Seattle Mariners on Friday.

Left-hander CC Sabathia (10-3, 3.57 ERA) will get the ball for the Yankees. Sabathia has not won a game since July 17 and he is coming off an outing in which the Boston Red Sox tagged him for six runs in six innings on Saturday. He is 11-4 with a 2.42 ERA in his career against the Mariners.

The Mariners will counter with right-hander Kevin Millwood (4-8, 3.90 ERA). Millwood ended a streak of 10 starts without a victory on Saturday with a good effort against the Kansas City Royals. In the past 10 seasons, he is 3-6 with a 4.40 ERA against the Yankees.

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

 

Orioles Seem To Have Stranglehold On 5th Place

As spring training camps open it is time to look at the American League East competition for the New York Yankees. How will the other teams fare as they gear up to dethrone the 2011 division champions? Do these teams have the pitching? Is there enough offense? Let’s see.

PART 1 – BALTIMORE ORIOLES

The 2011 season began with a lot of optimism because of the great job Buck Showalter did in turning around the Orioles at the end of the 2010 season.

But 2011 was much like every season for the Orioles since 1999. It fizzled into frustration in a hurry. They finished with a record of 69-93 and they were a distant fifth in the A.L. East, 28 games behind the Yankees.

This coming season promises to pretty similar because the Orioles have not made a lot of changes to their roster. With the exeption of Jeremy Guthrie, Luke Scott and Derrek Lee, this pretty much the same group that floundered through much of 2011.

STARTERS

One big reason is that the Orioles banked their future hopes on a collection of young starting pitchers like Brian Matusz, Zach Britton, Jake Arrieta and Chris Tillman. They progressed through the minors but none of them have established themselves as major-league quality starters. And if you want to compete in this division, you have to have good starting pitching.

The Orioles compounded that issue by trading their best starting pitcher, Guthrie, to the Colorado Rockies for starter Jason Hammel and reliever Matt Lindstrom. As a result, the Orioles’ “ace” is former Rangers right-hander Tommy Hunter, who was 4-4 with a 4.68 ERA in an injury-shortened season.

The Orioles, led by general manager Dan Duquette, are now shifting their sites overseas and the team signed two pitchers from the Japanese League in Wei-Yin Chen and Tsuyoshi Wada.

Chen, 26, is a left-hander from Taiwan who has compiled a 36-30 record and a 2.48 ERA in four seasons with the Chunichi Dragons. He also has pretty good stuff with 500 career strikeouts in 631 1/3 innings.

Wada, 30, is another left-hander and he has overcome two injury-plagued seasons to compile a combined 33-13 record with a 2.29 ERA in the last two seasons with Fukuoda Softbank Hawks. While Chen has better stuff, Wada is considered to have better control.

Both figure prominently in the Orioles plans for 2012 and both likely will be in the rotation this season, depending on how they progress in the spring.

Hammel, 29, was 7-13 with a 4.76 ERA last season with the Rockies. The tall right-hander figures to be slotted as the No. 4 starter.

The Orioles still have high hopes for Matusz, Britton, Arrieta and Tillman. But it appears Britton and Arrieta are going to get most of the attention this spring. The lefty Britton suffered a shoulder injury last season and he finished the season 11-11 with a 4.61 ERA. Arrieta was 10-8 with 5.05 ERA.

BULLPEN

The bullpen was a strength of this team when Koji Uehara was around but he was dealt to the Rangers at the trade deadline last July.

The closer job is up for grabs between incumbent closer Kevin Gregg, who saved 22 games but blew seven chances and was 0-3 with a 4.37 ERA, and Jim Johnson, who saved nine games and was 6-5 with a 2.67 ERA. Lindtsrom, who saved 23 games for the Astros in 2010, can also be shifted into the closer role.

The rest of the bullpen will likely be made up with lefty Darren O’Day and former starters Alfredo Simon, Brad Bergesen and Jason Berken.

STARTING LINEUP

A few years ago, the Orioles seem to invested their future into second baseman Brian Roberts, right-fielder Nick Markakis and center-fielder Adam Jones and have built around those players.

Unfortunately, Roberts has suffered through injury after injury and Markakis and Jones have underperformed expectations.

With the Orioles lack of ability to attract high-priced free-agent talent, the Orioles have to rely on that trio as the core of the team again.

The Orioles may also begin getting what they expected out of catcher Matt Wieters, who hit 22 home runs and won a Gold Glove for his defensive work behind the plate. The former No. 1 pick also is showing some signs of leadership on the team.

Shortstop J.J. Hardy finally shook off injuries that plagued him since he was with the Brewers in 2008 as he hit 30 home runs and drove in 80 runs.

Third baseman Mark Reynolds was pretty much as advertised. He did not hit for average and struck out 196 times but he also hit 37 home runs and drove in 87 runs.

Former Rangers first baseman Chris Davis is pretty much a carbon copy of Reynolds at first base only he does most of his striking out from the left side.

The Orioles will likely platoon veterans Endy Chavez and Nolan Reimold in the outfield and look for the Orioles to make a late bid for a DH.

They could re-sign veteran Vladimir Guerrero or chose from among Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui to replace Scott.

BENCH

Former Yankee Wilson Betemit will be the top reserve on the infield and middle infield reserve Robert Andino will return to provide glovework behind Roberts and Hardy. Former Rangers backstop Taylor Teagarden will be the backup to Wieters.

The Orioles could use the spring to look for some veteran help in the outfield to bolster their bench a bit.

ANALYSIS

With Jones, Wieters, Hardy, Reynolds and Davis the Orioles seem to have plenty of firepower. Plus when Roberts is healthy and Markakis is going good, they can get on base and steal a base or two. But the overall offense may be too geared towards power over putting the ball iin play and advancing runners.

The Orioles, as a team, strike out way too much and it cost them because their pitching is not that strong.

The Orioles are gambling on two Japanese League pitchers and two journeyman American starters (Hunter and Hammel) to give them time to develop their young pitchers like Britton and Arrieta. The jury is still out on Matusz, who looked like a surefire star in the making in 2010.

Without a consistent starting rotation, any effort Showalter makes in the bullpen could prove futile. A good bullpen only limits the damage. The bullpen should be strong but it is obvious they are going to tire quickly if they are constantly coming in the fourth or fifth inning.

Barring another Showalter miracle, this team is headed for more frustration in 2012. They simply can’t compete with the big boys (Yankees, Rays, Red Sox) and they merely hold their own against the Blue Jays. If I were a betting man, I would suspect that the Orioles will finish fifth again.

It is a spot for which they are built.

ON TUESDAY – PART 2  TORONTO BLUE JAYS