YANKEES 12, BRAVES 5
LAKE BUENA VISTA – Masahiro Tanaka continued his dominance by tossing 3 2/3 shutout innings and Stephen Drew and Brian McCann led a 12-run, 14-hit attack with a pair of two-run homers as New York hammered Atlanta at Champion Field on Wednesday.
Tanaka (1-0), making his second start of the spring, retired 16 of the 18 batters he faced while striking out three to get credit for the victory. The right-hander only gave up a single to A.J. Pierzynski in the second inning and a double to Freddie Freeman in the fourth.
The Yankees, meanwhile, took an early 1-0 lead in the third inning on Braves right-hander Mike Foltynewicz (0-1) on a two-out RBI single by Chase Headley to score Didi Gregorius, who was 3-for-3 on the night including an RBI triple in the fifth.
But the Yankees really teed off on Braves left-hander James Russell, scoring six runs on seven hits in the fourth and fifth innings that included Drew’s deep two-run blast in the fourth and McCann’s nearly identically longball in the fifth.
It was the most runs the Yankees have scored this spring in a game since they defeated the Houston Astros 9-4 on March 7 in Kissimmee, FL.
With the victory, the Yankees improved their Grapefruit League record to 10-6.
- Tanaka, 26, followed up his sensational two-inning debut against the Braves on March 12 at George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, FL, with another dominant performance on Wednesday. Now maybe the media and fans will shut up about his right elbow and just admit that Tanaka is just fine. He is primed for another great season.
- I have been on Drew’s case all spring so I have to admit that he is beginning to come around with the bat. Drew was 1-for-3 against the Braves and is 2-for-5 with three RBIs in his past two games, raising his spring average from what was a low of .077 on March 12 to .167.
- McCann has been struggling this spring also. But he returned to what was his spring home field for nine seasons and raked big time. He was 2-for-2 with a walk, a single and a home run and that raised his spring average to .217. He came in hitting .143.
- Gregorius is quickly making a name for himself as an exceptional fielder and tonight he showed that he is capable of swinging the bat. He was 3-for-3 with two singles, a triple, a stolen base and one RBI. He is hitting a solid .273 so far and he seems to have won over Yankee fans with his range and cannon arm.
- The only big negative of the evening was a pair of two-out errors. The first was Garrett Jones on a ball off the bat of Alberto Callaspo in the fifth inning. Former Yankee Zoilo Almonte followed with a single and fellow former Yankee Kelly Johnson then hit a three-run home run off right-hander Jose Ramirez, who deserved a better fate.
- The following inning Rob Refsnyder’s errant throw allowed Jesus Flores to reach first. Andrelton Simmons then singled and Callaspo followed with an RBI single off right-hander Andrew Bailey, who was making his first appearance in a game in 19 months when he pitched for the Boston Red Sox in 2013. That means that four of the five runs the Braves scored were unearned.
Once again, the Yankees soft-pedaled an injury to the media that turns out to be more serious. The Yankees announced on Wednesday that starting center-fielder Jacoby Ellsbury will cease all baseball-related activities for a week due to what is being called a mild oblique strain. After the Yankees said Ellsbury would not require an MRI, he was sent for one and it revealed the strain. Ellsbury said he felt the injury before Sunday’s game against the Philadelphia Phillies. Manager Joe Girardi said that he still thinks Ellsbury will have enough time to be ready for Opening Day. “I thought he was in a pretty good place, as far as being in shape and playing multiple days,” Girardi told reporters “There’ll be plenty of time for him.” . . . Yankees left-hander Jose de Paula is scheduled to undergo an MRI on his left shoulder on Thursday. De Paula has felt some lingering soreness for the past few days but had to stop throwing when the pain returned on Wednesday.
The Yankees return to Tampa to play host again to the Phillies.
The competition for the fifth starter’s spot heats up with right-hander Emil Rogers scheduled tho start for the Yankees. Rogers has no record and a 0.00 ERA in four games (two starts). He is one of the front-runners to replace the injured Chris Capuano in the rotation.
The Phillies will counter with veteran right-hander Aaron Harang, who is making only his second appearance of the spring. He is penciled in as the team’s No. 2 starter now that Cliff Lee has been placed on the 60-day disabled list with a left forearm strain.
Game-time will be 7:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast nationally by ESPN and locally by the YES Network.
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.
RIGHT-FIELD: Carlos Beltran, 37, (.233, 15 HRs, 49 RBIs, 109 games)
CENTER-FIELD: Jacoby Ellsbury, 31, (.271, 16 HRs, 70 RBIs, 39 SBs, 149 games)
LEFT-FIELD: Brett Gardner, 31, (.256, 17 HRs, 58 RBIs, 21 SBs, 148 games)
In the Yankees’ 2009 championship season they featured at outfield of Hideki Matsui, Johnny Damon and Nick Swisher that combined to hit 81 home runs. The 2014 edition of the Yankees only managed 48.
That tells you a lot about a team that limped to a 84-78 record and finished a distant second to the Baltimore Orioles in the American League East and missed the playoffs for a second consecutive season.
The Yankees had envisioned a speedy and defensive outfield that also featured some power from Beltran and Ellsbury. Instead, Gardner wound up out-homering the group and doesn’t that say a lot on how bad things were last season?
Beltran was a major disappointment but it was not through any fault of his own. In late April, Beltran was suffering through a very painful bone spur in his right elbow. It was easy to see how it affected his offense, too.
On April 23, Beltran was batting .307 with five homers and 13 RBIs in the middle of the Yankees’ lineup. From that point until he was placed on the disabled list on May 13, he hit .132 with no homers and two RBIs.
The Yankees can be faulted for signing the aging outfielder to a three-year contract. However, general manager Brian Cashman felt compelled to give in to Beltran’s demands for a third year after Robinson Cano left the team in a huff after the signing of Ellsbury to a seven-year, $153-million deal. The Yankees needed to find a solid No. 3 hitter and Beltran was the choice.
Beltran did return to the Yankees in June after attempting to rehab the elbow rather than have season-ending surgery. But he never was really the same hitter the rest of the season, batting .208 with 10 homers and 34 RBIs.
Beltran was basically playing with one arm and it showed. Even though he did return, he was unable to play the outfield until very late in the season because the bone spur in his elbow did not allow him to throw freely.
So Beltran decided to have surgery to remove the spur in September. He reported to training camp healthy and ready to prove himself as the player who hit .296 with 24 home runs and 84 RBIs for the National League champion St. Louis Cardinals in 2013.
So heading into 2015 the Yankees are counting on the switch-hitting Beltran to bat third and put up big home run and RBI numbers. As a player who has hit 373 career homers and driven in 1,376 runs while batting .281 over 16 major-league seasons, Beltran is certainly capable of doing that if . . .
Yep, there is that big if. The big if is can he remain healthy throughout the season? Beltran and the Yankees are anxious to find out.
“I trained hard, I did everything that I did in the past,” Beltran told reporters. “I want to be out there, no doubt.”
The Yankees are counting on Beltran, Mark Teixiera and Brian McCann to post numbers that will prevent the Yankees from ending up with the third-fewest runs scored in the American League as they did last season.
Much was also expected of Ellsbury after he signed that big contract to leave the Boston Red Sox.
For the most part, Ellsbury did deliver what was expected of him except when Beltran and Teixeira succumbed to injuries and Ellsbury was taken out of his comfortable leadoff spot and placed in the third spot in the batting order.
Ellsbury did not produce the runs the Yankees would have expected and his bat cooled off considerably as the season wore on. He ended up batting .155 in September and he did not even get close to the .298 average he put up in 2013 with the Red Sox.
By virtue of batting third, Ellsbury also did not get as many opportunities to steal bases, ending up with 13 less from his major-league-leading total of 52 in 2013.
The bottom line is that Ellsbury still led in the team in hits (156), doubles (27) and stolen bases while posting his best home run and RBI totals since 2011. He was, by all accounts, the Yankees’ most consistent hitter in 2014.
“Ellsbury is Ellsbury,” Cashman told reporters. “I thought he was basically right where he was when he left Boston. I thought he was terrific last year.”
There were moments last season that Gardner appeared to be on the verge of having a breakout season.
On June 20, Gardner was batting .290 with six homers, 28 RBIs and 15 SBs. For a club struggling with offense, Gardner was providing opportunities to score by getting on base.
But as the season wore on, a core muscle injury in his abdomen dragged Gardner down. He hit a terrible .218 with eight homers and 21 RBIs after the All-Star break. It ruined what looked to be what would easily be Gardner’s best in the majors.
After Gardner underwent surgery in October to correct the problem, he is reporting to camp at 100 percent.
With his return to health the Yankees would like for him to be more aggressive on the bases. After stealing 47 bases in 2010 and 49 in 2011, Gardner has regressed to just 24 steals in 2013 and 21 last season.
Manager Joe Girardi must also decide how to deploy Ellsbury and Gardner in the batting order. At this point, it appears Ellsbury will resume his leadoff role and Gardner will bat second. But Girardi likely will flip the two throughout the spring to get a feel how best to bat them.
One thing is clear, however. Both Ellsbury and Gardner give the Yankees excellent defense in the outfield. It stands to reason since they are both legitimate center-fielders.
Ellsbury won a Gold Glove with the Red Sox in 2011 and his fielding in 2014 was just as superlative. He committed only one error all season and playing the wide-open spaces of center in Yankee Stadium is not an easy assignment.
Gardner has never won a Gold Glove but he should have. Last season, Gardner committed just two errors and he was able to blend well with Ellsbury. Between the two of them it takes a lot to get a ball past them in left-center.
Beltran won three Gold Gloves with the New York Mets from 2006 through 2008. However, he will not be winning anymore of them. Knee problems have robbed Beltran of the range he used to have as a center-fielder.
He was charged with three errors in 31 starts in the outfield last season. But the good news is that right-field does not have as much ground to cover so the Yankees will only ask Beltran to catch what he can reach.
Though the Yankees realized his best days were behind him they will still miss the defensive prowess of Ichiro Suzuki in right-field. Suzuki has moved on to the Miami Marlins.
The Yankees have some depth in the outfield with a pair of players who have a lot of experience.
Garrett Jones was obtained in trade with the Marlins and is slated to have some important roles with the team this season.
Jones, 33, batted .246 with 15 homers and 53 RBIs in 146 games with the Marlins last season, primarily as a first baseman.
The Yankees would like the lefty-swinging Jones to be the team’s primary designated hitter this season because his swing is perfect for the short dimensions in right-field. In addition, Jones will back up Teixeira at first base and Beltran in right-field.
Jones is not a great fielder at first base (13 errors in 129 games in 2014) but he holds his own in the outfield. He does not have much range but he can make the plays. The Yankees feel they now have a serviceable backup for both Teixeira and Beltran and they are glad to have him.
The Yankees also have 31-year-old veteran Chris Young back after an impressive late-season audition with the team in 2014.
Young was cut loose by the Mets in early August and the Yankees signed him to a minor-league deal on Aug. 27. In the final month of the season, Young batted .282 with three homers and 10 RBIs in 23 games.
On that basis the Yankees elected to re-sign the veteran to a one-year, $2.5 million contract. He will be the team’s fourth outfielder and as a right-handed hitter he can give Gardner or Ellsbury a rest against a tough-left-handed pitcher.
Young is a power hitter who hit 20 or more home runs in four of five seasons between 2007 and 2011, including 32 in 2007. However, Young has never batted above .257 in any of his eight major-league seasons and he enters 2015 as a career .234 hitter.
Young still has some speed. He has 130 career steals and eight in limited play last season.
The former 2010 National League All-Star also can play all three outfield spots and he is an above average defender.
The additions of Jones and Young give manager Joe Girardi some flexibility in making out lineups and they are solid insurance policies should someone land on the disabled list.
One of the biggest failings of Cashman and the scouting department has been the inability of the Yankees to develop minor-league outfielders who can contribute to the Yankees. It seems that whatever prospects have been in the system are languishing and they aren’t progressing.
Zoilo Almonte, 25, has been up and down with the Yankees the past two seasons and has a .211 batting average in 47 games to show for it. The Yankees elected to let him go as a minor-league free agent and Almonte has since signed with the Atlanta Braves.
The other prospect names are virtually the same from last season: Mason Williams, Tyler Austin and Ramon Flores. Further behind them is Slade Heathcott.
They all will get another look this spring but they all will not make the roster unless there are some injuries.
Williams, 23, was once considered one of the top prospects in the Yankees’ system but he has slid to No. 16 this season after batting a horrible .223 with five homers and 40 RBIs in 128 games at Double-A Trenton.
Williams is a gifted athlete and he is sensational defensive outfielder. But at the plate he has become more of a slap hitter and it is obvious that he not making enough contact. Williams’ hustle has also been questioned and he was arrested on a DUI in 2013.
Austin, 23, also dropped as a prospect to No. 15. But he was a bit better at Trenton. He batted .275 with nine home runs and 47 RBIs in 105 games last season. But after he batted .322 with 17 homers and 80 RBIs in 2012, Austin has been dogged a persistent sprained right thumb.
The Yankees still have hope that he can he can develop. The Yankees think he can become a high-average power hitter. Austin is mainly a corner outfielder and likely would figure in as a right-fielder in the majors.
Flores, 22, is ranked as the team’s 14th best prospect after he batted a .247 with seven homers and 23 RBIs at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. A high-ankle sprain kept him from progressing as the Yankees would have liked.
Right now Flores is pegged as all-fields hitter who lacks power. It’s that reason why he is beginning to look like more of a fourth outfielder than a starter. Though he can play all three spots he works out best as a left-fielder because he lacks speed.
Heathcott, 24, was a former first-round pick of the Yankees in 2009 and he was not tendered a contract offer by the Yankees in December. Yet the Yankees re-signed him and invited him to camp as a non-roster player.
Though Heathcott has great talent, his all-out style of play has landed him on the minor-league disabled list many times. In 2013, it was a knee injury that required surgery.
He played only nine games at Trenton in 2014 before re-injuring the knee and missing the rest of the season. It looks like the Yankees are offering Heathcott one last make-or-break attempt because he is 24 and he has not advanced past Double-A.
One non-roster player that the Yankees can’t wait to check out is 6-foot-7, 230-pound Aaron Judge, who was a first-round selection by the Yankees in 2013 First-Year Player Draft.
Judge, 22, has a resemblance to NBA forward Blake Griffin and because of his size he has drawn comparisons to Dave Winfield and Giancarlo Stanton. But Judge does not just look the part.
In 131 games in two Class-A stops in 2014, Judge batted .308 with 17 home runs and 78 RBIs. His right-hand power stroke is awesome to see. Scouts say he does not just hit balls; he crushes them.
With his long swing he is prone to fail to make contact and strike out a lot. But the Yankees see him fitting nicely into right-field because for a big man Judge can move pretty well and he is a decent outfielder defensively.
He is rated as the No. 5 prospect in the organization and the Yankees can’t wait to see what he can do this spring.
The No. 8 prospect is 22-year-old Jake Cave, who hit a combined .294 with seven home runs and 42 RBIs between Class-A Tampa and Trenton.
Cave hits consistently from the left side. Not a big power threat, he mostly is a gap hitter. Cave is a above-average outfielder and as a former pitcher he has a great arm in center-field. He has good but not great speed but scouts love his max effort.
OVERALL POSITION ANALYSIS: GOOD
The Yankees have been snakebit for the past two seasons with injuries and the one to Beltran really derailed the outfield and caused a significant drop in run production in 2014. It is easy to say that Beltran, Ellsbury and Gardner are an excellent mix of speed, power, run production and defense but they all have to stay healthy.
The fact that Beltran has not missed a lot of time in the past indicates the odds he will be able to play a full season and he should be able to provide some power (20 plus homers) and 90 or more RBIs. The Yankees will need that from him in the No. 3 spot in the order.
Ellsbury and Gardner combined for 60 stolen bases but they should steal a whole lot more this season.
The shift of Ellsbury to the third spot cut his steals to 39 and Gardner has seemed more and more reluctant to run the last two seasons. It is hard to figure out why.
But the Yankees need both of them to get on base, advance and score runs if the team is going to succeed. There is not as much power on this team as there once was and that is why Ellsbury and Gardner will have to make the engine go.
The fact the two combined to hit 33 home runs was a bonus. The Yankees would love to have a repeat of those numbers in 2015.
The Yankees are blessed to have two backup outfielders capable of hitting double-digit homers in Young and Jones.
Young can play all three positions and Jones is a corner outfielder. But Jones likely will get more work as the team’s primary DH and as the backup to Teixeira at first base.
But Jones could also end up as a starter in right-field if Beltran goes down for any length of time.
Most of the Yankees’ most advanced outfield prospects have been major disappointments. Williams, Austin, Flores and Heathcott have all been highly touted prospects but they have flamed out so far.
Of that group, only Austin appears capable of turning it around if he can overcome his injury problems.
The best news on the farm is that Judge appears to the man-mountain power threat he appears to be. The Yankees just have to hope he can keep the strikeouts in check and keep his average up. The Yankees would like to have Judge be more like Winfield rather than Dave Kingman.
He is worth watching this spring.
NEXT: STARTING PITCHERS
YANKEES 4, PIRATES 3
The Yankees’ hitters must have gotten an early wakeup call on Sunday because they came out blazing against the Pirates.
The Yankees scored three runs in the first inning and added a run in the second and then they let Hiroki Kuroda and their bullpen hold it as New York extended its winning streak to four games with a victory over Pittsburgh in the first game of a doubleheader at Yankee Stadium.
Kuroda (3-3) was touched for a run in the first inning on a one-out solo home run off the bat of Neil Walker but he settled in after the Yankees came back to give him a 4-1 cushion.
The Yankees jumped on hard-luck right-hander Charlie Morton (0-6) when the first five batters he faced reached base.
Brett Gardner drew a leadoff walk and Derek Jeter followed with a perfectly placed bunt single. Morton then loaded the bases when he hit Jacoby Ellsbury with a curveball.
Mark Teixeira stroked a two-run single and Brian McCann scored Ellsbury with a RBI single.
The Yankees added a run in the second inning on a leadoff single by Kelly Johnson, who later stole second and reached third on an error by catcher Tony Sanchez. Gardner then scored him with an RBI double.
Unfortunately for the Yankees, their bats promptly went to sleep after Gardner’s double. Morton went on to retire 16 of the 17 batters he faced. The only batter who reached, Zoilo Almonte singled with two out in the fourth inning, was picked off first base by Morton.
Morton was charged with four runs on six hits and on walk while he struck out six in seven innings.
Kuroda was touched for two runs in the fifth when Sanchez led off with a home run into the left-field bleachers. Clint Barmes then doubled and he scored one batter later on an RBI single by Walker.
Kuroda left after giving up three runs on six hits and two walks while he fanned seven batters in six innings.
The Yankee bullpen combination of Matt Daley, Matt Thornton, Adam Warren and David Robertson held the Pirates scoreless on one hit over the final three innings to seal the victory for the Yankees.
Robertson pitched 1 1/3 innings of perfect relief to earn his eighth save in eight chances this season.
PIRATES 5, YANKEES 3
Reserve utility player Josh Harrison broke a 3-3 tie with two out in the seventh inning with a home run as Pittsburgh salvaged one game of the three-game series with New York in the second game of Sunday’s doubleheader.
Gerrit Cole (4-3) yielded three runs on seven hits and two walks while striking out eight in six innings of work to earn the victory. Mark Melancon pitched a perfect ninth to earn his sixth save of the season.
Reliever Alfredo Aceves (0-2), who came in relief of left-hander Vidal Nuno in the seventh, was charged with his second loss in the past eight days.
Nuno yielded three runs (two earned) on six hits and one walk and he struck out five batters in six innings.
Despite splitting the doubleheader, the Yankees – with a season record of 23-20 – pulled into a half-game lead in the American League East over the Baltimore Orioles. The Pirates are now 18-25.
- Kuroda was hardly at his best. But he did pitch much better than he has previously this season. Kuroda had much better command of his slider, which made his fastball and split-finger fastball much more effective. After winning two of his first three starts, Kuroda was 0-2 with a 5.10 ERA in his past five starts.
- Teixeira extended his hitting streak to eight games in the opener and managed to end the day one RBI in back of Yangervis Solarte for the team lead in RBIs with 22.
- Gardner has been on a hitting tear that began on May 3 and he has not stopped. In his past 15 games he is 20-for-58 (.345) with two home runs and 10 RBIs. He was 3-for-7 in the doubleheader and has raised his season average to .297.
- Manager Joe Girardi basically gutted the Yankees’ offense in the second game by holding out Jeter, Ellsbury, McCann and Alfonso Soriano. I understand that he needed to rest McCann (as the catcher) and Ellsbury (due to his recent illness). My only quibble is he could have balanced it so that two of them played in one game and two the other. In the second game, Johnson batted cleanup. Huh?
- Aceves, 31, may be quickly paving his way to being designated for assignment of he does not get his act together real soon. In his past four appearances, he has yielded eight runs on nine hits and three walks in six innings. That is an ERA of 12.00 and a Walks-To-Innings-Pitched (WHIP) ratio of 2.00. Pitchers who get shelled in relief do not stay in a Girardi bullpen for long.
- Solarte and Brian Roberts cost Nuno and the Yankees a valuable run in the second inning when Solarte made an errant throw after fielding a Starling Marte grounder and Roberts then dropped a potential double-play relay from Solarte one out later which would have ended the inning. Instead, Chris Stewart, of all people, drove in a run with a two-out single.
The Yankees will get a well-deserved day off on Monday before flying to Chicago to open a two-game series with the Cubs on Tuesday at Wrigley Field.
Rookie right-hander Masahiro Tanaka (6-0, 2.17 ERA) will open the series for the Yankees. Tanaka is coming off his his first major-league complete-game shutout, which he threw against the New York Mets on Wednesday. He gave up only four hits, did not walk a batter and struck out eight. He also beat the Cubs by shutting them out for eight innings ay Yankee Stadium on April 16.
Veteran right-hander Jason Hammel (4-2, 3.06 ERA) is scheduled to pitch for the Cubs. Hammel surrendered five runs on five hits and two walks in 5 1/3 innings in loss to the St. Louis Cardinals in his last start on Thursday. He also took the loss to the Yankees on April 16 at Yankee Stadium.
Game-time will be 8:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast by MY9.
YANKEES 7, PIRATES 1
On a day when David Phelps was struggling with his command and his pitch count was exploding the Yankees found a time-honored way to dispatch the Pirates: Break out the home-run ball.
Mark Teixeira and Brian McCann connected for a pair of two-run home runs and Zoilo Almonte, Brett Gardner and Alfonso Soriano each added solo shots as New York deep-sixed Pittsburgh in front of a national TV audience and a paid crowd of 47,353 at Yankee Stadium.
It was only the second time this season the Yankees have hit more than three home runs in a game and they tied their season high with five set against the Boston Red Sox on April 12.
Despite his struggles, Phelps (1-0) managed to pitch five shutout innings, yielding five hits, three walks and a hit batter while striking out five. Phelps did not have a single 1-2-3 inning but kept the Pirates off the scoreboard by wriggling out of jams.
He escaped a two-on, no out situation in the second by retiring Gaby Sanchez on a flyout and striking out Jordy Mercer and Tony Sanchez. He did the same thing in the fifth by striking out Neil Walker, getting Andrew McCutchen on a flyout and Pedro Alvarez on a groundout.
He also gave up three hits in the fourth, but he escaped without giving up a run thanks, in part, to a strike-’em-out, throw-’em-out double play when Ike Davis struck out and McCann threw out Starling Marte attempting to steal second base. Gaby Sanchez then stroked a two-out double and Mercer followed with a single to right but Soriano nailed Sanchez with a perfect throw to McCann.
Four of the five home runs came off Pirates right-hander Edinson Volquez (1-4), who had given up just one homer in his first five starts but has surrendered eight in his past four starts. he was charged with five runs on six hits and struck out three in 6 1/3 innings.
Teixeira opened the barrage in the first inning by following a one-out single by Derek Jeter with his ninth home run in just 23 games after coming off the disabled list on April 20.
Almonte, who was a late addition to the lineup because Jacoby Ellsbury was scratched from the lineup due to flu-like symptoms, hit Volquez’s first delivery in the third inning deep into the second deck in right-center for his first home run of the season and only the second of his major-league career.
Dellin Betances relieved Phelps and the sixth and he was greeted on his first pitch with a line-drive homer into the left-field bleachers by Marte to account for the Pirates’ only run of the day.
Gardner got the run back by stroking his third home run of the season to lead off the sixth inning, making the score 4-1.
Soriano added his sixth home of the season to lead off the seventh and McCann capped the scoring by cracking a two-run shot, also his sixth of the season, with two out in the eighth off right-hander Vin Mazzaro.
The Yankees have hit 25 home runs in just 20 games at Yankee Stadium compared to 13 home runs in 21 games on the road.
After going through a stretch of losing four games in a row earlier this week, the Yankees have now won three straight and Yankee pitchers have given up just one earned run (Marte’s homer) over the past 27 2/3 innings.
The Yankees improved their season record to 22-19 and they also climbed into a tie with the Baltimore Orioles for first place in the American League East, one game ahead of the Toronto Blue Jays. The Pirates dropped to 17-24.
- To put Phelps’ struggles in perspective, he threw 25 pitches in both the first and second innings and 26 in the fifth. His breaking pitches were diving out of the strike zone and the Pirates were not looking for anything but fastballs. But give Phelps credit for keeping the Pirates scoreless and he now owns a 1-0 record and a 2.93 ERA in his three starts in place of the injured Michael Pineda.
- McCann looks like he is beginning to be heating up with the bat. He was hitting .209 on May 6 but since then he has had at least one hit in six of his past seven games. In that span he is 8-for-28 (.286) with two homers and five RBIs to raise his season average to .225.
- Teixeira has hit in seven straight games and is 9-for-25 (.360) with four homers and nine RBIs in that stretch. With Carlos Beltran on the disabled list and McCann hitting well below his normal level, Teixeira has helped the Yankees by providing consistent production in the middle of the order.
The starter pitches five shutout innings, the team hits five home runs and the defense chips in by nailing base-runners at second and at the plate. Despite Betances blowing the shutout there is not much to criticize in this one.
The Yankees’ banged up outfield took another hit when Ellsbury had to be scratched before Saturday’s game. He had only missed one game this season. Ellsbury is day-to-day but the Yankees hope to have him available for Sunday’s doubleheader. . . . Meanwhile, Ichiro Suzuki, who has missed all of this week with a lower-back strain, was used as a defensive replacement in right-field in the ninth inning of Saturday’s game. He is expected to start at least one of two games on Sunday. . . . Although CC Sabathia will be eligible to come off the 15-day disabled list on May 26, manager Joe Girardi told reporters on Saturday that he will need more time. Sabathia had right knee drained of fluid and a degenerative change in the knee was treated with a cortisone and stem-cell injection this week by Dr. James Andrews in Birmingham, AL. Sabathia is expected to be back in New York on Sunday and he will be re-evaluated early next week.
Because of a rainout on Friday the Yankees will play a single-admission doubleheader against the Pirates on Sunday.
Right-hander Hiroki Kuroda (2-3, 4.62 ERA) will pitch the first game for the Yankees. Kuroda, 39, gave up four runs on seven hits in six innings against the New York Mets on Monday before the bullpen imploded after he left. He did not get a decision.
The Pirates will counter with hard-luck right-hander Charlie Morton (0-5, 3.22 ERA). Morton yielded three unearned runs in the first inning and lost to St. Louis Cardinals despite yielding just one earned run on seven hits in six innings last Sunday.
Left-hander Vidal Nuno (1-1, 6.43 ERA) will pitch the second game for the Yankees. Nuno has been a disappointment so far as a No. 5 starter, having given up seven runs (five earned) on four hits and four walks in just 3 1/3 innings against the Mets on Tuesday. He is 1-1 with a 4.94 ERA in his five starts.
He will be opposed by hard-throwing right-hander Gerrit Cole (3-3, 3.76 ERA). Cole was tagged for three runs on seven hits and three walks while he struck out six in 5 2/3 innings of a loss to the Milwaukee Brewers on Tuesday.
Game-time for the first game will be 1:05 p.m. EDT and the second game will start approximately 30 minutes after the first game is completed. Both games will be broadcast nationally by the MLB Network and locally by the YES Network.
YANKEES 4, PIRATES 2
CC Sabathia and Ichiro Suzuki have one thing in common. These two former stars have had a lot of baseball pundits digging their graves and ready to start shoveling dirt on them.
After watching them both play on a damp and cloudy Thursday afternoon at McKechnie Field in Bradenton, FL, it might be time to put away those shovels. Both have a lot left in the tank.
Suzuki was 3-for-4 with two runs scored and an RBI and Sabathia extended his spring training scoreless inning streak to 17 as New York defeated Pittsburgh in front of a paid crowd of 8.134.
In his final tuneup before Opening Day on April 1, Sabathia (3-1) held the Pirates to three hits, he did not walk a batter and he threw 33 of his 44 pitches for strikes. The 33-year-old left-hander leaves spring training with a sparkling 1.29 ERA.
Meanwhile, Suzuki helped spark the an offense that tagged right-hander Stolmy Pimentel (1-1) for four runs on nine hits and a walk over four innings.
Suzuki led off the game with an opposite-field single and he advanced to third on a hit-and-run single by Eduardo Nunez. Mark Teixeira scored Suzuki on a groundout. Two batters later, Zoilo Almonte, who also had three hits in the game, laced a single to left to score Nunez.
The Yankees added a pair of runs in the fourth after Pimentel had retired the first two batters.
Adonis Garcia doubled to the wall in right-center and Suzuki scored him on another opposite-field single. Suzuki moved to second on a wild pitch and he then scored on a single by Nunez.
The Pirates did not score until the eighth, when Jarek Cunningham greeted reliever David Phelps with a single and Andy Vazquez followed with a double. Travis Snider drew a walk to load the bases and Cunningham scored on a double play off the bat of Drew Maggi.
South African infielder Gift Ngoepe then laced a double to score Vazquez.
With the victory the Yankees assured themselves of a Grapefruit League record over .500. They are 16-12-2. The Pirates completed their Florida schedule with a 14-10 mark.
- After Sabathia finished the 2013 season with a 14-13 record with a 4.78 ERA, he vowed he would be better in 2014. Judging by his work this spring he has a good chance to make good on the promise. A great gauge on Sabathia’s progress is that in 21 innings this spring, he has walked only three while striking out 16. Despite reduced velocity on his fastball Sabathia is able to get outs with command of his pitches, mixing of speeds and the addition of a cutter.
- Suzuki, 40, even hit the ball hard in the one out he made in sixth. He lined out to left. On March 15, Suzuki was batting .125 and looking his age at the plate. Since then he is 9-for-23 (.391) with five RBIs in his past seven games. Though he likely will be the team’s fifth outfielder unless he is traded, Suzuki appears to be ready to play whenever manager Joe Girardi calls on him.
- Nunez, 26, was having a disappointing spring until he went 3-for-4 with a run scored and an RBI on Thursday. Nunez is among three players being considered for two backing infield jobs that are open with infielder Brendan Ryan nursing a sore back and headed for the disabled list to start the season. Nunez raised his average to .265 and he has a homer and four RBIs.
- In his second appearance after learning he was not chosen as the No. 5 starter, Phelps struggled with his command in his two-thirds of an inning of work. He gave up two runs on three hits and a walk. Only a bases-loaded double play turned by Carmen Angelini and Jose Pirela saved him from disaster. Phelps will have to get used to throwing out of the bullpen again.
- Though he drove in the game’s first run on a groundout, Teixeira was 0-for-3 and saw his spring average dip to .091. Because Teixeira underwent wrist surgery in the offseason, he was unable to prepare as he would have liked for spring training. Being a switch-hitter also means he has to work on his stroke from both sides of the plate. Teixeira is likely going to need more time to get going. But, then again, Teixeira has never been known to hit much in April anyway.
The Yankees made seven roster moves after Wednesday’s game against the Toronto Blue Jays in Dunedin, FL. They optioned right-hander Preston Claiborne and Almonte to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. In addition, they reassigned infielders Russ Canzler and Scott Sizemore, and right-handers David Herndon, Jim Miller and Yoshinori Tateyama to minor-league camp. On Thursday, the team also reassigned right-handers Danny Burawa and Chris Leroux and left-hander Fred Lewis to minor-league camp. The team is expected to finalize its 25-man roster on Friday. . . . Jacoby Ellsbury worked out at the team’s spring training complexion Tampa, FL, and he is expected to play in minor-league contests on Friday and Saturday. Ellsbury is recovering from a strained right calf and he is progressing well, Girardi told reporters. . . . Outfielder and designated hitter Alfonso Soriano is continuing to receive treatment for a sore right shoulder. Though the Yankees are monitoring the injury it is not considered serious.
The Yankees return to George M. Steinbrenner Field on Friday to face the Miami Marlins.
Right-hander Hiroki Kuroda (1-0, 6.48 ERA) will make his fourth appearance of the spring and his third start. Kuroda likely will be limited to about 50 pitches.
The Marlins will counter with right-hander Jacob Turner (2-1, 2.79 ERA).
Game-time will be 7:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast by MLB Radio via WIOD-610 AM in Miami.
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.