With the opening of the New York Yankees spring training camp in Tampa, FL, we will now look at each position on the team to assess their chances in 2015. After a disappointing 2014 season with a roster riddled with significant injuries the Yankees have reshuffled the deck with a lot of fresh faces to join some old ones. Let’s look at them.
Chase Headley, 30 (.243, 13 HRs, 49 RBIs, 135 games)
Like most Yankee fans Alex Rodriguez just assumed that after his season-long suspension from Major League Baseball for using performance-enhancing drugs that he would resume his spot as the team’s starting third baseman.
He (and we all) assumed wrong.
The Yankees, who acquired Headley from the San Diego Padres on July 22 last year in exchange for infielder Yangervis Solarte and right-handed pitching prospect Rafael De Paula, liked what they saw after the veteran hit .262 with six homers and 17 RBIs in 58 games after the deal.
So much so that the Yankees signed Headley to a new four-year, $50 million deal on Dec. 15.
They also have been giving A-Rod hints that they do not exactly want him real badly. They have made it clear they have no intention of paying him a series $6 million marketing bonuses due Rodriguez as he moves up the all-time home run ladder.
After installing Headley as the starting third baseman they made it known that Rodriguez may be tried out at first base as a potential backup to Mark Teixiera. On top of that they have indicated that newly acquired first baseman/outfielder Garrett Jones will be the team’s primary designated hitter this season.
What’s next? Handing A-Rod a rake and telling him he will be part of the Yankee Stadium grounds crew.
There is no doubt that the 39-year-old three-time American League Most Valuable Player deserves the treatment he is getting because of the lies he has told about his drug use and the way he trashed the organization throughout his effort to have his suspension overturned.
But how it impacts Headley remains to be seen.
Headley is two seasons removed from a career year in which he hit .286 with 31 home runs and 115 RBIs for the Padres in cavernous Petco Park. On top of that he was awarded a Gold Glove that season and he won the Silver Slugger Award at third base.
Since then Headley has fallen victim to a recurring back injury that necessitated a cortisone injection last July. Headley faltered to hit .250 with 15 homers and 50 RBIs for the Padres in 2013 and he was hitting only .229 in July when the Yankees made the deal.
The Yankees were forced into making the deal because Rodriguez’s season-long suspension left them without an experienced third baseman on the roster.
The Yankees intended to start Kelly Johnson at the position despite the fact he had little experience there. But manager Joe Girardi quickly turned to the 27-year-old rookie Solarte after a hot spring and quick start with the bat in April.
But Solarte’s bat quickly cooled and the Yankees ended up using a series of players such as Brendan Ryan, Scott Sizemore, Martin Prado and Zelous Wheeler until Headley was obtained.
Headley, a switch-hitter, does possess the ability to hit for power. He does have double-digit homers in five of the past six seasons. However, other than the 31 homers he hit in 2012 his next highest total was the 13 he has hit the past two seasons.
So is he a 30-homer guy or 13-homer guy? The Yankees would settle for 20 or so.
The RBI totals should not really be as much of an issue because Headley is expected to hit either sixth or seventh in the batting order. But they could use some production for the lower half of the order this season because their offense is not as powerful as Yankee teams have been in the past.
It is Headley’s defense the Yankees are extremely pleased about. Though Rodriguez played the position after having won two Gold Gloves as a shortstop with the Texas Rangers he never really was considered more than a bit above average defensively at the position.
Headley is a considerable step up, particularly if his back issues are truly under control. He committed only eight errors at the position last season and the Yankees were very happy to see him there late last season after they watched a parade of players try to play the position earlier.
A late-season injury to Teixeira forced the Yankees to even shift Headley to first base to fill in for six starts. Headley had only played the position in two previous games but the Yankees were desperate because of the many injuries that ravaged their roster in 2014.
Headley will concentrate on playing third base and likely will not be using a first baseman’s mitt anytime in the foreseeable future.
As for A-Rod, he reported to spring training two days early on Monday and said he was looking forward to winning a roster spot with the team. What that spot will be remains to be seen because Girardi has no idea what Rodriguez has left in the tank.
After all, Rodriguez has only played in only 44 games over the past two seasons due to injuries and the suspension. He did play in 122 games in 2012 but underachieved by hitting .272 with 18 homers and 57 RBIs.
But A-Rod, to his credit, was optimistic on Monday.
“Right now, I’m just focused on making this team,” Rodriguez told reporters. “Obviously it was a rough year, but I’m very excited that’s behind me and I have a chance to hopefully make this team.”
Whether Rodriguez makes the team or not the Yankees are still on the hook to paying him more than $60 million for the next three seasons. So their options if he should falter in spring training are limited.
Cutting him loose is not an option really. A trade is possible but is there any team that would want a fading star who will get booed anywhere he goes? If there was a team that would want Rodriguez (such as the Marlins in his hometown of Miami) it would mean that the Yankees would still have to pay a major portion of his contract.
So Rodriguez remains the giant albatross that hangs around the necks of general manager Brian Cashman and the team’s managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner. They can’t execute the moves they would like to improve the team because of this giant pain in the butt in Rodriguez.
Should the Yankees decide to rid themselves of Rodriguez they would have to find themselves a backup to Headley.
Ryan, 32, can play the position in a pinch but his bat would be a big liability. (He is career .234 hitter with absolutely no power.)
Among the non-roster invitees is 24-year-old Dominican Jonathan Galvez, who hit .280 with 10 homers and 52 RBIs at Triple-A El Paso last season. But he has no major-league experience.
Super-sub Jose Pirela, 25, batted .305 with 10 homers and 60 RBIs in 130 games at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre in 2014. But he is primarily a middle infielder with only one minor-league game at the position in 2013.
Wheeler has been released and there is no player at the Triple-A level who is near a major-league quality option.
There is a long-range option for the position but he is nowhere near ready for the majors.
He is 22-year-old lefty-swinging Eric Jagielo, who the Yankees selected 26th in the first round of the 2013 First-Year Player Draft.
The Yankees feel he has a tailor-made lefty power swing for Yankee Stadium and he already has put up 13 homers in 2013 and 16 last season. Jagielo also drove in 53 runs while batting .259 at Class-A Tampa in 2014.
Jagielo will not be Gold Glove winner at third but he is improving and he has excellent arm strength for the position. The Yankees do not think he will be ready until 2016. But they are hopeful he will continue to develop.
He is currently ranked as the Yankees third best prospect.
Their 18th-ranked prospect is Miguel Andujar, 19, who was signed out of Venezuela in 2011.
Andujar struggled early in the 2014 season but quickly rebounded to hit .319 in the second half of the season with Class-A Charleston (SC). The right-handed power threat has a very quick bat and he is projected to be able to hit 20 or more homers a season.
Andujar still needs to work on his plate discipline and that will help him raise his average. He also is obviously trying too hard in the field because he has committed 51 errors in 196 pro games at third base.
To say he is a work in progress is putting it mildly. But the Yankees will be patient with the youngster.
OVERALL POSITION ANALYSIS: ADEQUATE
The fact the Yankees had the courage to diss A-Rod by signing Headley to a long-term deal and handing him position is a good thing. The Yankees simply do not know if Rodriguez can play at a high level anymore and Headley is a decent fallback position.
The big hope has to be that Headley is able to shake off his back woes enough to hit 20 homers and drive in a decent amount of runs at the lower end of the batting order. Healey is a career .265 hitter and the Yankees would settle for that in 2015.
Headley also promises to be a big help defensively if he is healthy. The former Gold Glove winner has good quickness and agility at the hot corner and he is capable of making some spectacular plays. His defense will benefit the pitchers and the Yankees will need to limit the runs they give up this season.
Whether Rodriguez is able to make the team as Headley’s backup is an open question.
Over the years Rodriguez has been booed in every stadium he is played in except Yankee Stadium. That will change this season because even Yankee fans have tired of his lies and his selfish attitude.
The guess here is that Rodriguez will make the roster only because the Yankees do not have another third baseman to replace Headley should he go down at any point for any length of time. But the only at-bats A-Rod likely will get this will be as a right-handed designated hitter in a platoon with Jones.
As a right-handed DH in 2011, Andruw Jones received 190 at-bats in 77 games, hitting .247 with 13 homers and 33 RBIs. The Yankees would be happy with that from A-Rod and hope that he is not a distraction in the clubhouse or that he does not embarrass the team in the tabloids.
The Yankees options if they rid themselves of Rodriguez are limited. They likely would have to bring in a backup from outside the organization because Ryan and Pirela are ill-suited for the position.
However, the future looks bright if Jagielo or Andujar develop. Jagielo, a former Notre Dame star, looks like one of the most promising third base prospects the Yankees have had in years.
With Headley signed for four seasons they can for afford to be patient with them both.
YANKEES 5, TWINS 4
Sometimes the difference between good pitchers and great pitchers is how great pitchers deal with the fact that they do not have their best stuff that given day. Masahiro Tanaka proved on Saturday he can succeed on a day when he does not have command of his pitches.
Tanaka (1-0) yielded three runs on five hits and a walk and struck out six in 5 2/3 innings and the Yankees scored four runs in the fourth inning to back him up as New York won its seven straight Grapefruit League game by edging Minnesota in front of a record crowd of 9.298 at Hammond Stadium in Fort Myers, FL.
The Twins got to Tanaka in the bottom of the first when Brian Dozier led off with a double, he advanced to third on a groundout and scored on a RBI groundout by Joe Mauer.
Trailing 4-1 in the sixth, the Twins scored two more runs off Tanaka when Kurt Suzuki singled, Josh Willingham was hit by a pitch, Jason Kubel stroked an RBI double to score Suzuki and Trevor Plouffe scored Willingham on a groundout.
That ended Tanaka’s afternoon and relievers Fred Lewis, David Herndon, Shane Greene and Yoshinori Tateyama held the Twins to one hit and one run the rest of the way.
Despite giving up a solo home run to Eduardo Escobar in the ninth inning, Tateyama was credited with a save.
The Yankees managed only one hit in the first three innings off Twins right-hander Kevin Correia (1-2). But they sent nine men to the plate and scored four runs off him in the fourth.
After loading the bases with one out by hitting Francisco Cervelli with a pitch, Correia unloaded a wild pitch allowing Eduardo Nunez to score the tying run. Scott Sizemore, in the same at-bat, followed with a two-run single to score Kelly Johnson and Cervelli.
Zelous Wheeler capped the inning one out later by drilling an RBI double that scored Sizemore.
The Yankees added what was an insurance run in the seventh off reliever Anthony Swarzak. But it ended up being the game-deciding run.
Zoilo Almonte led off the frame with a double and Wheeler followed with a single. One batter later, Raybell Herrera, a catcher who was added to the traveling squad and was making his first plate appearance of the spring, slapped an RBI single that scored Almonte.
With the victory, the Yankees improved their spring record to 15-9-2. The Twins are 7-12.
- Though Tanaka was far from dominant, he did show that he could pitch his way out of trouble and limit the damage. He held the Twins to just the one run in the first after the leadoff double. With the bases loaded and two out in the third inning, he retired Willingham on a fly ball to left. There were stretches in his outing where he retired six and seven batters in a row, respectively. The bottom line is held the lead when he got it and he got credit for the victory.
- Sizemore, 29, is trying to make the Yankees’ roster after suffering two straight seasons in which he had to undergo surgery to repair ligament tears in the same right knee. He also is not likely to make the roster as a backup infielder because he needs to more reps in the minors. But he did come through a clutch two-run single in the fourth. Sizemore is 4-for-5 (.267) on the spring.
- Wheeler, 27, is also trying to make the team as a backup infielder and he also can play the corner outfield spots. He was 2-for-3 in the game with an RBI. Wheeler is now 11-for-32 (.344) with seven doubles and six RBIs in 20 games. But Wheeler also is not likely to make the team because Dean Anna and Yangervis Solarte are playing well and are ahead of him.
Considering the Yankees brought only two starters (Brett Gardner and Johnson), the fact that Tanaka was not at his best and the Twins were a determined bunch, the Yankees found a way to win. Every team has days like this and the Yankees proved they could adapt. There is nothing wrong with that.
Cervelli took an absolute beating in the game. The 28-year-old backup took two foul tips to the groin and was hit on the left hand by a pitch from Correia in the fourth inning. Cervelli, however, remained in the game until he was replaced by Jose Gil in the seventh inning. . . . The Yankees won a crucial replay challenge in the third inning that ended up helping them win the game. With Aaron Hicks on first after a leadoff single, Pedro Florimon at the plate and no outs, Hicks attempted to steal second. As Florimon swung at strike three, Cervelli threw a perfect strike to Sizemore at second. Hicks, however, stopped his right foot in the baseline and swung his left foot onto the base as Sizemore swept his right leg with the tag. Umpire Marvin Hudson ruled Hicks was safe. Manager Joe Girardi got word that Hicks was tagged on the right shin by Sizemore and he challenged the call. Within two minutes the call was reversed. Had the call stood the play would have changed the outcome because the Twins ended up loading the bases.
The Yankees will come back to George M. Steinbrenner Field on Sunday to play host to the Toronto Blue Jays.
The Yankees will start 25-year-old right-hander Michael Pineda, who has a chance to nail down the No. 5 spot in the starting rotation. Pineda (2-0) has not allowed a run in nine innings in three starts, giving up just eight hits and walk while striking out 14.
The Blue Jays will counter with veteran left-hander Mark Buehrle (0-1, 3.60 ERA), who will be celebrating his 35th birthday.
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 3, RED SOX 2
All of the pundits seem to agree that after Michael Pineda’s sterling effort against the Red Sox on Tuesday that the battle for the Yankees’ No. 5 spot in the starting rotation is over. The only problem is that right-hander David Phelps never got the memo.
Phelps pitched an impressive six innings and hot-hitting Francisco Cervelli and Ichiro Suzuki provided the offense as New York swept the two-game home and away series against Boston on Thursday at JetBlue Park in Fort Myers, FL.
Phelps (1-0) held the Red Sox to no runs on a hit and a walk and he had retired 14 of the first 16 batters he faced until he ran into trouble in the sixth while holding a 3-0 lead.
David Ross led off with a single and was erased on a fielder’s choice off the bat of Jonathan Herrera. Grady Sizemore singled and, one out later, Dustin Pedroia doubled in pinch-runner Carlos Rivero and Sizemore to draw the Bosox within a run.
After Phelps walked David Ortiz he ended the threat by retiring Mike Napoli on an infield popup.
The Yankees took an early 1-0 lead in the contest when Cervelli led off the second inning with a long blast over the Green Monster in left off right-hander Clay Buchholz (2-2). It was Cervelli’s fourth home run of the spring, which leads the team.
Buchholz retired the first two batters in the fifth but then walked Zoilo Almonte. Zelous Wheeler followed with a opposite-field double and Suzuki plated both Almonte and Wheeler with a single to right-center.
The Yankees’ relievers, Chris Leroux, Fred Lewis and Matt Daley, held the Red Sox scoreless over the final three innings to clinch the victory. Daley pitched a perfect ninth to earn a save.
The Yankees have now won five straight Grapefruit League contests and they are now 13-9-2. The Red Sox slumped to 8-13.
- Phelps looked confident and in command in his effort against the Red Sox. He threw 57 of his 86 pitches for strikes and actually came within one pitch of throwing a perfect pitcher’s inning in the second inning. He threw three consecutive called strikes to both Napoli and Daniel Nava. He then tossed two straight called strikes to Xander Bogaerts before throwing a ball. He then retired Bogaerts on an infield grounder. Phelps’ spring ERA ticked up a bit to 2.75 but he has done very well in his battle to start.
- They need to start calling Cervelli “Babe” after his spring power display. In addition to his four home runs, Cervelli is 15-for-31 (.484) with six extra-base hits and seven RBIs. Because he is out of options he is not going to be sent to the minors. The Yankees will either keep him as the backup to All-Star catcher Brian McCann or he could be traded. It is beginning to look like the Yankees will not trade him. But nothing is certain.
- After looking overmatched at the plate early this spring, Suzuki is starting to come on with the bat. In his past three spring games, Suzuki is 4-for-10 (.400) with four RBIs. That has raised his spring average to .219. Suzuki looks to be the team’s fifth outfielder this season unless he is traded before spring training ends.
The team has won five in a row, including two victories over the Red Sox. The starting pitching has been good and the offense really has picked up over the past week. There is nothing to complain about.
Outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury had an MRI conducted on his sore right calf and the results came back negative, manager Joe Girardi informed reporters on Thursday. Ellsbury has not played in a game since March 14. He did not take batting practice on Thursday and he has not resumed running yet. Girardi said although there is no pain in Ellsbury’s calf, there is some lingering soreness. Ellsbury remains day-to-day. . . . Infielder Brendan Ryan had to be scratched from Thursday’s lineup with upper back spasms. Ryan, 31, has not played in a game since March 4 and he hoped to play Thursday. But Ryan felt his back tighten up as he participated in infield practice. Ryan is now in jeopardy of beginning the season on the disabled list. That would open a backup infield spot on the roster for either Dean Anna or Yangervis Solarte. Eduardo Nunez likely would claim the other backup spot and platoon with Kelly Johnson at third base.
The Yankees return to George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, FL, on Friday to take on the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Left-hander CC Sabathia (1-1, 2.70 ERA) will make the start for the Yankees. He will be opposed by right-hander Edinson Volquez (0-2, 11.00 ERA).
Game-time will be 7:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast live by the MLB Network via ROOT Sports of Pittsburgh.
YANKEES 7, BRAVES 0
LAKE BUENA VISTA – Since 2011, Ivan Nova has been the type of pitcher who can delight a manager with his stuff while at the same time force the same manager to tear out his hair because of his inconsistency.
On Wednesday, Nova thrilled manager Joe Girardi by pitching 6 1/3 innings of shutout baseball, allowing only two hits and not walking a batter. He also had the Braves hitters pulling their hair out as he struck out five and New York blanked Atlanta in front of a sellout crowd of 10,413 at Champion Stadium.
Nova (2-1) was in total command from his first pitch to his last, throwing 49 of his 68 pitches for strikes and allowing only five balls to be hit beyond the infield. The only two hits Nova allowed was a leadoff bloop single to Andrelton Simmons in the third inning and a one-out double to pinch-hitter Ryan Doumit in the sixth.
Meanwhile, the Yankees got to work early against Braves right-hander David Hale (0-2).
Brett Gardner drew a leadoff walk in the first, stole second and advanced to third on a fly ball off the ball of Derek Jeter. Carlos Beltran then scored Gardner on a sharp single to right.
The Yankees added a pair of runs after two were out in the fourth when Adonis Garcia laced a two-run double to left to score Brian Roberts and Kelly Johnson.
Beltran keyed another two-run rally in the seventh off right-hander Luis Vazquez.
After Jose Gil drew a leadoff walk, pinch-runner Antoan Richardson stole second and Gardner drew his third walk of the day. Jeter’s infield grounder took out Gardner at second but Richardson scored on an error by Simmons, who threw wildly attempting to turn a double play.
Beltran, who entered the game with only three hits all spring, delivered his third single of the day to drive in Yangervis Solarte, who was pinch-running for Jeter in what was his final appearance in a game at Champion Stadium. Jeter drew a loud ovation as he jogged back to the Yankees’ dugout.
In their last four spring games, all of them victories, the Yankees have outscored their opponents 29-5.
The Yankees improved their spring ledger to 12-9-2. The Braves dropped to 8-13.
- Nova, 27, was coming off two outings in which he was shelled for six runs on 17 hits in nine innings. But Nova looked more like the pitcher who was 7-4 with a 2.59 ERA in his final 15 starts of the 2013 season. Nova had the Braves either locked up or flailing away at the 12-to-6 break on his curveball. For those so-called “experts” who have said the Yankees’ starting rotation looks shaky in 2014 may want to reconsider that view. This rotation actually might be its strongest group since 2009 when the team won its 27th world championship.
- Beltran, 36, was 3-for-4 with two RBIs to lead the offense against the Braves. Beltran looks much more relaxed at the plate and the Yankees will look to benefit this season from the veteran switch-hitter batting in the third slot in the order. The eight-time All-Star is a career .283 hitter with 358 major-league home runs.
- The fact that Gardner drew three walks, stole a base and scored a run shows how committed he is to building upon his 2013 season. Gardner is hitting .303 but his on-base percentage is .385. It indicates that he could do some serious damage from the No. 9 spot in the batting order this year.
The Yankees have won four games in a row and they are getting great starting pitching (CC Sabathia, Masahiro Tanaka, Michael Pineda and Nova) and the offense is beginning to break out in a big way. They have averaged more than seven runs a game in their past four games. There is nothing negative to say.
The Yankees essentially brought all of their starters to Lake Buena Vista with the exception of first baseman Mark Teixeira and outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury. . . . Ellsbury remained at the Yankees’ spring complex at Tampa, FL, nursing a sore right calf and Girardi told reporters on Wednesday that the veteran outfielder will play on Friday at the earliest. Ellsbury has been shagging fly balls and hitting but has not tested his leg by running yet. . . . Girardi is noncommittal about who will be selected as the team’s backup at second base for Roberts and at third base for Johnson. Veteran Eduardo Nunez, 26, who also can play shortstop, would appear to be the front-runner. But Girardi said that Dean Anna, Scott Sizemore, Solarte and Zelous Wheeler remain in the fight. Solarte, 26, has been the sensation of the spring, leading the team in hits (15), batting .500 with two homers and a team-leading eight RBIs.
After thrashing Boston on Tuesday 8-1 at George M. Steinbrenner Field the Yankees travel to Fort Myers, FL, to face the Red Sox again on Thursday.
Right-hander David Phelps (0-0, 2.63 ERA) will make his fifth start for the Yankees. Teixiera, Ichiro Suzuki, Francisco Cervelli and Nunez are scheduled to make the trip.
The Bosox plan to pitch injury-prone right-hander Clay Buchholz (2-1, 1.13 ERA).
Game-time will be 7:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast nationally by ESPN and locally by the YES Network.
YANKEES 7, TIGERS 7 (10 INNINGS)
TAMPA – The Tigers got four strong innings out of right-hander Anibal Sanchez and they pounded Hiroki Kuroda for six runs but New York rallied late to pull into a 7-7 tie after 10 innings at George M. Steinbrenner Field on Wednesday.
Sanchez gave up one run on three hits, did not walk a batter while striking out three.
Meanwhile, Kuroda was tagged for six runs on 10 hits and no walks in 3 2/3 innings.
The Tigers onslaught was led by Nick Castellanos, who smacked a two-run double to key a four-run first, and Trevor Crowe, who added a two-run double in the third inning.
The Yankees got a pair of solo home runs from backup catcher Francisco Cervelli, who connected for one in the third inning off Sanchez and one off reliever Evan Reed in the fifth.
The Yankees scored three runs in the eighth off reliever Ian Krol, keyed by a two-run bases-loaded ground-rule double by Zelous Wheeler.
Zoilo Almonte tied the game in the ninth with a two-run homer off Jose Ortega.
Neither team scored in the 10th inning and the game ended in a tie.
The Yankees’ spring record is now 7-5-2. The Tigers are 7-6-1.
- Cervelli is having a breakout spring and he has virtually locked up the backup catching job over Austin Romine and John Ryan Murphy. Cervelli is out of options anyway. So it will be an easy call for the Yankees unless they opt to trade Cervelli.
- Give the youngsters some credit for rallying late to tie the game. They did the same thing on Sunday against the Rays. Almonte is buried behind a bunch of veterans and free agents but the Yankees feel he will benefit from a full season at Triple A after being rushed to the majors last season.
- The relievers held the Tigers to one unearned run on three hits over the last 6 1/3 innings to allow the Yankees to come back. Shawn Kelley looked particularly good, pitching a perfect frame in the fifth.
- Kuroda downplayed his poor outing but it was frustrating because CC Sabathia struggled so much the day before against the Nationals. Kuroda just could not keep his pitches down and I am not sure it is anything to worry about. Of course, if it happens again we might worry more.
- Ichiro Suzuki, Derek Jeter, Carlos Beltran and Brian Roberts were a combined 0-for-12 with five strikeouts. We need offense from these guys. They need to pick it up soon.
The Yankees will play a pair of games on Thursday.
Right-hander Michael Pineda will start at home as the Yankees play host to the Baltimore Orioles.
Meanwhile, Ivan Nova will start against the Philadelphia Phillies at Bright House Field in Clearwater, FL.
Both games are at 1:05 p.m. EDT.
The YES Network will broadcast the home game locally. There is no scheduled broadcast of the road contest.
YANKEES 3, TIGERS 2
TAMPA – On a chilly and windy Friday evening the New York Yankees received a huge boost to their starting rotation but their eventual victory came from an ill-timed flinch by a Tigers relief pitcher.
With one out in the bottom of the ninth, Zelous Wheeler scored from third on a balk committed by Luis Marte as new York defeated Detroit in an exhibition game at George M. Steinbrenner Field.
Wheeler slapped a sharp single to left and Francisco Cervelli advanced him to third on a single to center.
Jim Miller (1-0) pitched a scoreless ninth to earn the victory. Marte (0-1) took a very embarrassing loss.
But the star of the evening was 25-year-old right-hander Michael Pineda, who threw two dominant scoreless innings in relief and struck out four of the seven batters he faced after not pitching in a major-league game in two years.
The Yankees took a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the third inning when Derek Jeter stroked a two-out single off Tigers starter Anibal Sanchez. Carlos Beltran followed with a titanic blast to right that nearly cleared the right-field bleachers.
The Yankees held that lead until Yankees left-hander Matt Thornton entered the game in the seventh inning.
With one out, Alex Avila singled and Austin Jackson laced a triple to the wall in right-center. Steve Lombardozzi then scored Jackson with the tying run on a looping single into right.
The Yankees boosted their Grapefruit League record to 6-4. The Tigers fell to 5-4.
- It was clear from the beginning of spring training that if Pineda was healthy he WOULD be the team’s No. 5 starter. Judging by his first effort after recovering from surgery to repair a torn labrum Pineda has the job. Pineda entered the game in the fifth inning and gave up one hit, walked none and threw an amazing 22 of his 27 pithes for strikes. Among the batters he fanned were Jackson, Rajai Davis and Miguel Cabrera. If Pineda pitches anything near what he did in 20011 when he was an American League All-Star with the Seattle Mariners, the Yankees’ American League East rivals will be cringing.
- Hiroki Kuroda started for the Yankees and pitched a very workmanlike 2 1/3 innings. He yielded a hit and a walk while he fanned five in a 51-pitch outing. The Yankees’ top four starters (Kuroda, CC Sabathia, Masahiro Tanaka and Ivan Nova) have surrendered just three earned runs in their first 16 innings of the spring for a tidy 1.13 ERA.
- Beltran, who was the designated hitter for the Yankees on Friday, has only two hits in 13 at-bats this spring. However, both of those hits have been home runs. In the first 2 2/3 innings Sanchez had held the Yankees to two hits and he had not walked a batter while he struck out four.
- The biggest loss the Yankees suffered during the winter really was not Robinson Cano. It was left-hander Boone Logan, who signed a three-year contract with the Colorado Rockies after four consistent seasons with the Yankees. Thornton, 37, is Logan’s replacement and he was disappointing in what his first extended outing this spring. After retiring Victor Martinez in the seventh, Thornton was tagged for four consecutive hits, coughing up the 2-0 lead before getting the last two outs with runners on second and third.
- Alfonso Soriano looked a bit better on Friday but is still 0-for-6 with four strikeouts in his first two games. It looks as if the flu that sidelined him for the first two weeks of the spring has set him way behind the other hitters. But he still has plenty of time tune up for the regular season.
Carmen Berra, the wife of Yankee legend Yogi Berra, died on Friday from complications from a stroke that she suffered earlier this year. She was 85. A moment of silence was observed in honor prior to the game.
The Yankees travel to face a Houston Astros split squad on Saturday at Osceola County Stadium in Kissimmee, FL.
Nova will get the start for the Yankees. Mark Teixeira is scheduled to start his second game of the spring while Brett Gardner, Kelly Johnson and Cervelli will join him on the trip.
The Astros will counter with 23-year-old right-hander Jarred Cosart, who was 1-1 with a 1.95 ERA in 10 starts with the Astros in 2013.
Game-time will be 1:05 p.m. EST and the game will be broadcast live by the MLB Network.
Though the New York Yankees will be opening their spring training schedule on Tuesday with an exhibition against Florida State, most eyes will be on the Seminoles’ Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Jameis Winston.
Winston, an outfielder and relief pitcher for the Seminoles, will have a chance to display his arm at George M. Steinbrenner Field with the game starting at 1:05 p.m. EST. There is no television or radio broadcast of the game available.
Manager Joe Girardi is excited about getting a look at Winston.
“Obviously he’s extremely athletic,” Girardi told reporters. “When you watch him play the game of football, he’s got a great arm. He’s pretty mature for his age, as an athlete and what he had to go through and handle, and I’m excited to see him.”
The Yankees will open the exhibition with left-hander Vidal Nuno as their starter. Nuno, 26, is among four pitchers who are vying for the No. 5 spot in the Yankees’ rotation.
Though Nuno was the sensation of the 2013 spring camp, winning the James P. Dawson Award as the teams top rookie, he only has an outside shot of winning the only starting job available. Michael Pineda, David Phelps and Adam Warren are also in the hunt.
Girardi said that outfielder Brett Gardner, free-agent infielder Kelly Johnson and catcher Francisco Cervelli will be among the veterans who will start against the Seminoles.
The exhibition on Tuesday is a warmup for the Yankees’ Grapefruit League opener scheduled for Wednesday against the Pittsburgh Pirates at McKechnie Field in Bradenton, FL. The Yankees will return the favor on Thursday when the Pirates visit Tampa, FL, for the Yankees’ spring home opener.
The buzz around camp centered around Masahiro Tanaka’s simulated game session on Monday. Tanaka looked impressive in a 35-pitch outing to Cervelli against infielders Scott Sizemore, Dean Anna and Zelous Wheeler. Even though CC Sabathia and Hiroki Kuroda also threw simulated sessions, it was obvious Tanaka was drawing all the interest. And Cervelli and Sizemore came away impressed with what Tanaka was throwing. Sizemore said there was little to distinguish between Tanaka’s fastball and splitter. . . . Outfielder Alfonso Soriano, who has been set back by the flu, said he was feeling better on Monday. Soriano likely will be held back a bit for the first few spring training games. . . . Girardi said Derek Jeter is scheduled to start in the team’s home opening spring game on Thursday. This will be Jeter’s final spring training in what will be his final major-league season. . . . Sizemore, who is recovering from surgery for a torn ACL in his left knee, likely will not play in his first spring game until the early next week. Sizemore, who can play second and third base, was signed as a minor-league free agent and given an invitation to spring training.