Neck stiffness resurfaces for slumping Teixeira

While Alex Rodriguez is on the road back to good health and expected to rejoin the Yankees for Thursday’s late-afternoon series finale against the Blue Jays at Yankee Stadium, there are other physical concerns disrupting the club.

Rodriguez homered in two at-bats for Double A Trenton Wednesday night after going 2-for-4 with a run batted in Tuesday night on an injury-rehabilitation assignment. It is too bad A-Rod did not take to playing first base a couple of years ago because the Yankees may have a real need there.

Mark Teixeira was out of the lineup Wednesday night because of neck stiffness, the same ailment that forced him to miss two home games earlier this month against the Royals. It has been a rough month for Teixeira, who is batting .164 with three doubles and two RBI in May that has driven his season batting average down to .195. Tex was 4-for-25 (.160) on the recent trip to Phoenix and Oakland. He went 16 games without an RBI from May 3-21, the longest stretch of his career. He was 1-for-4 with two strikeouts in Tuesday night’s 6-0 victory over the Blue Jays. Teixeira has not homered since April 13, another career-worst stretch of 124 at-bats.

Dustin Ackley was at first base batting sixth in the order Wednesday night. Manager Joe Girardi conceded he does not have that many options at that position. He said he could use backup catcher Austin Romine at first base or use Romine behind the plate and have regular catcher Brian McCann at first. Romine was taking grounders at first base during batting practice.

Gary Sanchez, the catcher Romine beat out in spring training for the role of McCann’s caddy, is also hurt. Playing at Triple A Scranton/Wilkes Barre, Sanchez took a foul ball off his right hand Tuesday night and sustained a bone fracture in this thumb that placed him on the disabled list.

A former Yankees catcher was a primary reason the Yankees’ six-game winning streak came to an end. Russell Martin, who entered the game without a home run and only one extra-base hit in 122 at bats, cranked two home runs to drive in three runs for Toronto in its 8-4 victory that dropped the Yankees back below .500(22-23).

The Yanks got a pair of home runs on back-to-back solos by Chase Headley (No. 3) and Didi Gregorius (No. 4) in the seventh but it was too little too late. For the seventh straight game, the Yankees’ starter pitched six innings or more. Ivan Nova (2-2) lasted two outs in the seventh before he hit Edwin Encarnacion with a pitch and was replaced by Chase Shreve, who gave up a two-run homer to Patrick Saunders.

The Blue Jays were not finished with Shreve. Justin Smoak doubled and Martin followed with his second homer of the game. His first came leading off the sixth against Nova, who was charged with four earned runs in 6 2/3 innings. A couple of two-out infield singles in the fourth hurt Nova, who then yielded a bases-clearing double by Ryan Goins.

Martin’s sixth-inning homer came in his 125th at-bat, the second longest drought at the start of a season in his career. Martin did not hit a home run in 2009 until his 218th at-bat for the Dodgers. Martin’s bid for a three-homer game came in the ninth but center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury caught his drive on the warning track.

Toronto starter Marco Estrada earned his first victory in eight starts since April 10. The righthander, who had received scant run support prior to Wednesday night, loaded the bases with none out in the second on singles by Headley and Gregorius and a four-pitch walk to Aaron Hicks but gave up only one run on an infield out. Gregorius had three hits, including a singe off lefthander Chad Girodo, which raised his team-leading batting average against southpaws to .368 in 38 at-bats.

Rodriguez has played only two games at first base, both in 2015, in his career and was not a bit comfortable on that side of the infield as he has been over the years as a shortstop turned third baseman. A-Rod made one error in his 9 2/3 innings as a first baseman.
The Yankees are hopeful Teixeira’s health issues are short-term. If the problem should linger, they would have to weigh all options. After a hot start at SWB, Nick Swisher has cooled off to a .260 batting average with four home runs and 13 RBI. He has been platooned there with Chris Parmelee, who is batting .244 with six homers and 18 RBI.

Yanks, Jays going in opposite directions

The team that zoomed past the Yankees last year to the American League East title is moving past them in a different direction this year. The Blue Jays have replaced the Yankees in last place in the division. The Yanks climbed out of the cellar over the weekend in Oakland and have fought back to the .500 mark (22-22) with the 6-0 victory Tuesday night over a Jays team that is not scoring in bunches as it did a year ago.

The Yankees’ stretch of first-rate starting pitching during the six-game winning streak that has pushed them into third place in the AL East continued with Nathan Eovaldi (5-2) shutting out the Blue Jays on two hits in six-plus innings with three walks and five strikeouts in winning his fourth consecutive start and extending his streak of winning decisions to five.

Eovaldi has pitched to a 2.16 ERA over his past four starts and a 2.92 ERA over his past six starts as his season ERA has dropped from 6.11 to 3.95. Relievers Dellin Betances, Kirby Yates and Luis Cessa held Toronto hitless over the final three innings. During the winning streak, Yankees pitchers have a 1.67 ERA in 54 innings. Opponents are batting only .148 in 189 at-bats off Yankees pitching in the past six games.

Eovaldi ran his streak of consecutive batters retired to 22 before Troy Tulowitzki’s one-out single in the second inning. The righthander also retired 12 batters in a row from the first out in the third through the final out of the sixth. Since allowing a leadoff double in the first inning May 18 at Phoenix, Eovaldi has set down 36 of 41 batters faced.

The Yankees’ offense could not be slowed down even in the throes of having to face a knuckleballer. They jumped on R.A. Dickey (2-6) early with a run in the first inning. As it turned out, that was all the scoring they needed.

Toronto right fielder Jose Bautista, the most powerful leadoff hitter in the major leagues, helped the Yankees to that run in the first with a poor decision to dive for a Jacoby Ellsbury line drive that ended up rolling to the wall for a leadoff triple. A walk and a strikeout later, Carlos Beltran beat out a play at first to avoid being doubled up as Ellsbury scored.

Beltran, the Yankees’ hottest hitter of late, got a more legitimate RBI in the fourth with his 10th home run. He also walked and scored in the Yankees’ two-run eighth inning on a sacrifice fly by Chase Headley. Didi Gregorius singled in the second run.

Dickey was gone by then. He was chased in the seventh after giving up an RBI double to Austin Romine. Ellsbury greeted reliever Joe Biagini with a run-scoring single.

Beltran started off the brief homestand as well as he finished off the two-city trip in which he batted .407 with three runs, five doubles, one homer and nine RBI in seven games and 27 at-bats. In nine games since May 15, Beltran has hit .394 with seven runs, five doubles, three home runs and 14 RBI in 33 at-bats.

Injury rehab stint at Trenton for A-Rod

Alex Rodriguez’s return from the 15-day disabled list will be delayed for at least another day or two. Rodriguez, who was placed on the DL May 4 due to a strained right hamstring, went on an injury-rehabilitation assignment to Double A Trenton Tuesday night. The Thunder has night games Tuesday and Wednesday.

Rodriguez has been eligible to come off the DL since May 19, but he was not activated during the Yankees’ recently completed four-game sweep at Oakland. Carlos Beltran was the DH in all four games and was 9-for-18 (.500) with three runs, five doubles, one home run and eight RBI.

Yankees manager Joe Girardi explained before Tuesday night’s opener of a three-game series against the Blue Jays at Yankee Stadium that the decision on Rodriguez was reached Monday during a conference call with club officials. Girardi said the thinking was that A-Rod has been idle for three weeks and needs at-bats. With three righthanders starting for Toronto in this series there is less of a need to hurry Rodriguez back.

And although it is purely coincidental, the Yankees have gotten hot during A-Rod’s absence. They are 12-6 since he went on the DL. DHs have hit a combined .323 with 10 doubles, five home runs and 19 RBI in 62 at-bats. Almost all of the damage has been by Beltran, who started 12 of 15 games as the DH (there was no DH in a three-game series in the National League city of Phoenix) and batted .367 with 11 runs, nine doubles, five home runs and 18 RBI in 49 at-bats. The Yanks were 10-2 in those games.

Using Beltran as the DH spares his aging legs, improves the outfield defense with Aaron Hicks in right field and offers some playing time for Triple A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre call-up Rob Refsnyder. Girardi did say that once Rodriguez returns he would again be the full-time DH, but for the time being there is no emergency.

The Yankees made a player move Tuesday in claiming pitcher Layne Somsen off waivers from the Reds and optioning him to SWB. The righthander, 26, made his major league debut with Cincinnati this season and appeared in two games. Somsen pitched a scoreless inning May 14 at Philadelphia and allowed five earned runs in 1 1/3 innings May 16 at Cleveland.

The South Dakota native also made 10 appearances with Triple-A Louisville This year and posted a 1.89 ERA in 19 innings without any decisions. In 86 games, including seven starts, over parts of four minor league seasons, Somsen has a 9-5 career record with a 2.50 ERA.

The Yankees’ 40-man roster now stands at 40.

70th Yankees Old-Timers’ Day coming June 12

Five Hall of Famers will be among more than 40 former Yankees scheduled to attend the 70th annual Old-Timers’ Day Sunday, June 12, at Yankee Stadium. Fans are asked to be in their seats by 11:30 a.m. for the festivities with the traditional Old-Timers’ game to follow. All pregame celebrations will be aired exclusively on the YES Network. The Yankees will then play the Tigers at 2:05 p.m., also on YES. Gates will open to ticket-holding fans at 10 a.m.

The Old-Timers are headlined by Hall of Famers Whitey Ford, Rich “Goose” Gossage, Rickey Henderson, Reggie Jackson and Joe Torre. Former Yankees and current YES Network broadcasters David Cone, John Flaherty and Paul O’Neill will also be part of the pregame with program.

Three-time All-Star closer John Wetteland, who won the 1996 World Series Most Valuable Player Award with saves in all four of their victories toward their 23rd World Series title, will make his Old-Timers’ Day debut, alongside 1996 teammate Mariano Duncan, as well as Bubba Crosby and the oldest living former Yankees player, Eddie Robinson, 95.

Joining the Hall of Famers and former Yankees on the field will be the widows of five legendary Yankees—Arlene Howard, widow of Elston Howard; Helen Hunter, widow of Jim “Catfish” Hunter; Jill Martin, widow of Billy Martin; Diana Munson, widow of Thurman Munson; and Kay Murcer, widow of Bobby Murcer.

A complete list of Old Timers’ Day attendees:

Jesse Barfield, Brian Boehringer, Scott Bradley, Dr. Bobby Brown, Homer Bush, David Cone, Bubba Crosby, Bucky Dent, Al Downing, Brian Doyle, Mariano Duncan, John Flaherty, Whitey Ford, Oscar Gamble, Joe Girardi, Rich “Goose” Gossage, Ron Guidry, Charlie Hayes, Rickey Henderson, Arlene Howard (widow), Helen Hunter (widow), Reggie Jackson, Scott Kamieniecki, Pat Kelly, Don Larsen, Graeme Lloyd, Hector Lopez, Jill Martin (widow), Hideki Matsui, Lee Mazzilli, Ramiro Mendoza, Stump Merrill, Gene “Stick” Michael, Gene Monahan (Trainer), Diana Munson (widow), Kay Murcer (widow), Jeff Nelson, Paul O’Neill, Joe Pepitone, Lou Piniella, Willie Randolph, Mickey Rivers, Eddie Robinson, Tanyon Sturtze, Ralph Terry, Marcus Thames, Joe Torre, John Wetteland, Roy White, Bernie Williams.

Pineda brings some ‘quality’ to his start

The quality start is somewhat of a bogus statistic. It is rewarded to a starting pitcher who allows three or fewer runs in six innings. Since three runs allowed in six innings converts to an earned run average of 4.50, the quality start can be a pretty hollow stat.

However, a 4.50 ERA looks pretty good these days to Michael Pineda, whose ERA stands at 6.34 after what qualified Sunday as a quality start for him as the Yankees won their fifth straight game and completed their first four-game sweep at Oakland since 1979.

That Pineda had one of those six innings-three runs quality starts was just fine with the Yankees, who have been waiting for him to come close to one and falling in line with the rest of the rotation in creating this winning streak. The more important stat for Pineda was the “W,” a winning decision that ended a winless stretch of eight starts since his only other victory April 6. On that day, the righthander allowed six earned runs in five innings (10.80 ERA) and benefit from his teammates scoring a season-high 16 runs.

Pineda showed progress to some degree in pitching from the stretch and displayed improved control of his slider, which has been wayward to say the least. The most quality of his innings was the sixth because in retiring the side in order Pineda held onto a 4-3 lead and set up the rest of the game for Dellin Betances, Andrew Miller and Aroldis Chapman to finish off the Athletics.

Carlos Beltran helped the situation further with a two-out, RBI double in the seventh for a 5-3 Yankees advantage. Betances had two strikeouts in a 1-2-3 seventh, but Miller had to work to avoid having the A’s tie the score in the eighth after consecutive errors by shortstop Didi Gregorius and second baseman Starlin Castro gave Oakland runners on the corner with none out. Miller got a huge strikeout of Danny Valencia before pinch hitter Billy Butler drove in a run with a groundout to third. Another grounder to third by pinch hitter Khris Davis ended the threat before Chapman worked a perfect ninth for his sixth save.

This was the fifth time all three power relievers appeared in the same game. They have combined for a 1-0 record with five saves, a 1.17 ERA and 27 strikeouts in 15 1/3 innings in those games. Overall, the Yankees’ bullpen over the past 20 games is 4-1 with seven saves and a 2.10 ERA in 60 innings.

Yet it has been starting pitching that has done the most to shape the winning streak. Starters were 5-0 with a 2.03 ERA this turn through the rotation and allowed 19 hits and four walks with 26 strikeouts in 31 innings.

After winning the first three games of the Oakland series with only one home run (by Beltran), the Yankees got solo shots from Brian McCann and Jacoby Ellsbury off A’s starter Jesse Hahn. After the A’s regained the lead in the fifth on a two-out, RBI double by Stephen Vogt, the Yankees got a pair of two-out hits of their own to move ahead for good.

Mark Teixeira greeted reliever John Axford with an infield single to end a 0-for-19 stretch and get his first run batted in since May 1 covering 71 plate appearances. The legs of Brett Gardner got that RBI for Tex by scampering home from second base on the grounder that was knocked down by A’s second baseman Chris Coghlan in shallow center field. Castro got the Yankees back in front with a single to left-center.

Beltran finished off an incredible series that brought the Yankees’ season record within one game of .500 (21-22) in which he had nine hits in 17 at-bats (.529) with eight RBI. His fifth double of the set was career No. 515, which tied Hall of Famer Joe Cronin for 50th place on the all-time list. With Alex Rodriguez due to come off the 15-day disabled list when the Yankees open a brief homestand Tuesday night, Beltran will have to surrender his designated hitter duties.

The Yankees are 13-6 since A-Rod went on the DL. Beltran’s productivity has been a major factor in that record. In 12 games as the DH, Beltran hit .367 with nine runs, nine doubles, five home runs and 18 RBI in 49 at-bats. The Yankees were 10-2 in those games. Rodriguez has big shoes to fill.

Yanks escape last place with 4th straight victory

Goodbye, last place. For the first time in nearly a month, the Yankees are no longer at the bottom of the pack in the American League East. Their 5-1 victory Saturday at Oakland paired with Toronto’s 5-3 loss at Minneapolis pushed the Yankees over the Blue Jays in the standings.

The Yankees’ fourth straight victory, their longest winning streak of the year, was their third in a row over the Athletics in paying the A’s back for their sweep of a three-game series at Yankee Stadium last month. The Yankees can go one better with another victory Sunday in the series and trip finale.

It has been a pleasant trek for the Yanks, who stumbled at the beginning of it with two losses in Phoenix, but they have come back on the strength of their starting pitching. Saturday marked the fourth straight game in which a Yankees starter allowed only one run in six or more innings of work.

Masahiro Tanaka went seven innings Saturday, topping the six-inning efforts of predecessors CC Sabathia, Ivan Nova and Nathan Eovaldi. The weak link in the rotation has been Michael Pineda, who will try to turn his fortunes around Sunday.

Tanaka allowed one run on a sacrifice fly by Danny Valencia in the fifth. Two innings earlier facing Valencia with the bases full and one out, Tanaka struck him out looking and ended the threat by getting Khris Davis on a ground ball to third base. Tanaka walked two batters and struck out four in ending a five-start streak of no-decisions. For the season, Tanaka is 2-0 with seven no-decisions and a 3.24 ERA.

This was Tanaka’s third career start against the A’s. He is 3-0 with a 1.31 ERA in 20 2/3 innings. Saturday’s victory was his first start at Oakland and continued his success on the road where he is 1-0 with a 1.69 ERA in four starts this season. For his career, Tanaka is 13-6 with a 3.04 ERA in games away from Yankee Stadium.

A four-run fourth inning off Athletics starter Sean Manaea (1-2, 7.62 ERA) gave Tanaka all the offensive support he would require and once again allowed Joe Girardi in his 1,500th major league game as a manager to rest his three power relievers, although Aroldis Chapman did warm up in the ninth when the A’s got a runner on base with none out against Nick Goody, who worked two scoreless frames.

Carlos Beltran drove in the first run of the fourth inning for his seventh RBI of the series. After a sacrifice fly by Aaron Hicks, Triple A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre call-up Rob Refsnyder doubled to right-center for two more runs. Refsnyder played right field for the first six innings. He began his career in the outfield but was moved to second base in the minors and also played some third base during spring training but is now back in his original spot and seems more comfortable. Refsnyder was on a tear this month at SWB, batting .400 with five doubles, two home runs and five RBI in 14 games and 55 at-bats in May. For the season, he is hitting .293 with six doubles, two homers and 10 RBI in 34 games and 133 at-bats. Refsnyder batted .302 in 43 at-bats with the Yankees in two separate call-up stints last year.

Starlin Castro, who had three hits, doubled in a run with two out in the seventh inning to Chase Manaea. Beltran singled leading off the eighth for his 2,495th career hit to tie Mickey Vernon for 99th place on the all-time list. This was the 11th game in which Beltran served as the designated hitter since Alex Rodriguez went on the 15-day disabled list. In those starts, Beltran has hit .356 with nine runs, eight doubles, five home runs and 17 RBI in 45 at-bats. The Yankees are 9-2 in those games and 12-6 since A-Rod went on the DL.

All of which has helped the Yankees get out of the AL East cellar. They had been in last place for 27 consecutive days, a period covering 25 games since April 24. They do not want to go back and hope to take that message to the Blue Jays when they come to the Stadium next week for a three-game set.

Beltran thriving in A-Rod’s absence

Alex Rodriguez has been eligible to come off the 15-day disabled list since Thursday, but the Yankees seem in no hurry to activate him. The main reason is that he has not appeared to be 100 percent in running drills, which is crucial for a player disabled due to a strained right hamstring.

Another reason is that the Yankees have been able to use the designated hitter spot previously occupied almost solely by Rodriguez in a manner that is helpful for a club with aging players. Manager Joe Girardi has had the luxury of giving games off the field for catcher Brian McCann, first baseman Mark Teixeira and most notably right fielder Carlos Beltran.

Of the 17 games A-Rod has been out of the lineup, Beltran has served as the DH in 10 of them and sparing his battered legs has produced dividends to the offense. Beltran has been an absolute wrecking crew in Oakland where the Yankees have knocked off the Athletics two nights in a row in ending a four-game Athletics winning streak and putting together a three-game winning streak for the first time this season.

Beltran had three doubles and drove in three runs in Friday night’s 8-3 victory, one night after another three-RBI game with a double and a home run in Thursday night’s 4-1 triumph. In 41 at-bats as the DH in Rodriguez’s absence, Beltran has batted .342 with eight runs, eight doubles, five home runs and 16 RBI. The Yankees are 8-2 in the games Beltran has been the DH and 11-6 overall since A-Rod went on the DL.

Beltran doubled with two out in the first inning off Sonny Gray, who the Yanks would rough up later in the game, but was stranded. Beltran’s second double knocked in two runs in the Yankees’ four-run fourth that also included a two-run triple by Ronald Torreyes and a run-scoring wild pitch, one of three in the game by Gray, who also gave up six hits and four walks in 3 1/3 innings. The Oakland righthander finished third last season in the American League Cy Young Award voting behind winner Dallas Keuchel and runner-up David Price but has struggled big-time this year with a 3-5 record and a 6.19 ERA.

Beltran doubled in the Yankees’ sixth run in the sixth inning off reliever Ryan Dull. The offensive outburst was sufficient support for CC Sabathia, who in his first start since coming off the DL held the A’s to one run, three hits and one walk with eight strikeouts in six innings. Having a five-run lead in the seventh meant Girardi could stay away from Dellin Betances and give Andrew Miller and Aroldis Chapman the night off as well.

Jacoby Ellsbury continued his hot hitting with two hits, including a two-run triple in the ninth. The center fielder is batting .395 with 10 runs, four doubles, two triples, six walks, five stolen bases and five RBI in 38 at-bats this month.

The winning decision was Sabathia’s 100th victory with the Yankees. With 106 victories for the Indians, Sabathia became the eighth pitcher since 1900 and the second with the Yankees to win at least 100 games with multiple franchises. Mike Mussina (Orioles) was the other Yankees pitcher to pull off the feat. The others were Grover Cleveland Alexander (Phillies and Cardinals), Lefty Grove (A’s and Red Sox), Nolan Ryan (Angels and Astros), Dennis Martinez (Expos and Orioles), Greg Maddux (Cubs and Braves) and Randy Johnson (Mariners and Diamondbacks).

Special ticket deal at Stadium for Rutgers fans

Rutgers University director of athletics Patrick Hobbs and head football coach Chris Ash will throw out the ceremonial first pitches prior to Tuesday’s 7:05 p.m. Yankees-Blue Jays game at Yankee Stadium.

In addition, a special ticket offer with unique savings on select seats for Tuesday’s game is available for all Rutgers alumni, fans and supporters. For complete details on the offer, fans should visit http://www.yankees.com/rutgers. Please note that all ticket specials are subject to availability.

“The Yankees are the iconic brand in sports,” Hobbs said. “As a lifelong Yankees fan, I am thrilled to represent Rutgers Athletics and have the opportunity to throw out the first pitch at Yankee Stadium.”

“It is an honor to represent Rutgers in throwing out the first pitch at Yankee Stadium, one of the most storied venues in all of sports,” Ash said. “This will be a great opportunity to meet our fans in the tri-state area who love and support Rutgers football.”

Rutgers previously played in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl twice. The Scarlet Knights defeated Iowa State, 27-13, Dec. 30, 2011, and lost to Notre Dame, 29-16, Dec. 28, 2013.

The 2016 New Era Pinstripe Bowl will take place at 2 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 28, at Yankee Stadium on ESPN, featuring participants from the Big Ten and Atlantic Coast Conferences. Established in 2010, the New Era Pinstripe Bowl has featured some of the most memorable moments in recent college football history.

Tickets for the 2016 New Era Pinstripe Bowl will be made available in the near future. For up-to-the-moment information regarding the game, fans are encouraged to visit http://www.pinstripebowl.com, the official website of the New Era Pinstripe Bowl, and follow the Bowl game’s official Twitter and Instagram accounts – @PinstripeBowl.

Beltran homers to atone for weak base running

On a night when the Yankees seemed to be doing so many things to avoid scoring, a home run and shutdown pitching made up for all the bizarre offensive mistakes Thursday night in a 4-1 victory at Oakland against a team that had swept the Yankees at home last month.

Carlos Beltran was at the center of the Yankees’ schizophrenia. He drove in a run in the third inning with a double, then failed to score when right fielder Josh Reddick dropped Brian McCann’s fly ball with two outs by not running because he lost count of the outs.

That missed run looked huge when the Athletics tied the score in the fourth on a home run by Reddick off Ivan Nova, the only blemish on the righthander’s third straight impressive start that bodes well for his chances to stay in the rotation even with CC Sabathia coming off the the 15-day disabled list to start Friday night.

The Yankees regained the lead in the sixth on a two-out, RBI double by Aaron Hicks. This was the weirdest inning of the night for the Yanks. They had four hits in the inning against Oakland starter Kendall Graveman (1-6) but scored just the one run.

Chase Headley, who has really pick things up offensively of late, led off with a single but was picked off first base, although Headley and Yankees manager Joe Girardi thought Graveman balked. Dustin Ackley singled and crossed to third on a single to right field by Didi Gregorius, who did not run hard out of the box and then tried to stretch his hit on Reddick’s throw to third base and was out at second. Hicks’ two-bagger at least gave the Yankees something from the inning.

Beltran atoned for his base running gaffe by bashing a two-run home run in the top of the ninth off reliever Fernando Rodriguez. Turning a one-run lead into a three-lead with Aroldis Chapman coming in for the bottom of the ninth was very positive penance for Beltran. He got a chance to play hero thanks to Brett Gardner, who walked with two outs right before him. It was a big night for Gardner, who reached base four times (two singles, two walks), stole a base, scored two runs and robbed Yonder Alonso of a potential RBI extra-base hit with a running, leaping catch on the left field warning track in the second inning.

Nova limited the A’s to four hits and no walks with three strikeouts over the first six innings and got 12 outs on ground balls, a sign that his sinker was effective. Also efficient. Nova threw only 62 pitches. He is 2-0 with a 1.65 ERA in 16 1/3 innings as a starter this year.

It may have been surprising to see Nova remain in the dugout as the seventh inning rolled around, but just as he did Wednesday night with Nathan Eovaldi pitching a one-hitter through six Girard could not resist the temptation to nail things down by bringing in Dellin Betances to pitch the seventh, Andrew Miller the eighth and Chapman the ninth. Opponents should take note — you are looking at a six-inning game if you fall behind the Yankees by the middle innings.

Bullpen trio saves near-perfect gem by Eovaldi

Managerial decisions in this age of pitch counts and crowded bullpens often lead to head-scratching among fans. The Yankees’ Joe Girardi and the Diamondbacks’ Chip Hale made questionable moves Wednesday night that in the end proved more costly to Arizona.

The Yankees avoided being swept in the series by the D-backs with a 4-2 victory in the finale, but Girardi put himself on the spot when he decided to remove Nathan Eovaldi after six nearly perfect innings and turn the final three innings over to the power arms of Dellin Betances, Andrew Miller and Aroldis Chapman. It worked out eventually, but it was touch-and-go there for a while.

Betances walked the first two batters in the seventh, then bounced back to retire the next three hitters, two on strikeouts. Miller hung a 0-2 slider to Chris Owings, who homered leading off the eighth to cut the Yanks’ lead to 3-2, and then struck out the next three hitters. A run in the top of the ninth on a bases-loaded wild pitch provided insurance for Chapman, who did not need it as he retired the side in order in the bottom of the inning to notch his fourth save.

Utilizing all three flame throwers in the same game for the third time was a sign of the importance Girardi placed on winning this game. Earlier in the day, principal owner Hal Steinbrenner leveled criticism at some players and singled out pitchers Luis Severino and Michael Pineda, first baseman Mark Texeira and third baseman Chade Headley. Tex had another tough game (0-for-5, three strikeouts). Headley was 2-for-4 but made a hesitating play in the field in the first inning that allowed the only run charged to Eovaldi, who was nothing short of magnificent.

Brett Gardner’s two-run home run in the first gave Eovaldi a lead before he took the mound. Jean Segura led off with a grounder up the middle that struck the second base bag with the second baseman legging out a double. He crossed to third on a groundout and came home on another, although he stopped in the base path at one point but Headley threw to first base for the sure out.

Eovaldi retired 18 batters in a row following Segura’s hit. The righthander kept the ball down and got 10 outs on ground balls to go with five strikeouts. Of the three fly ball outs against him, two were caught in foul ground. Eovaldi threw 85 pitches through six innings, so it was something of a surprise not to see him come out for the seventh. Girardi admitted he would have kept Eovaldi in the game if he were still working on a no-hitter but added he would not hesitate to use the Betances-Miller-Chapman combine when they were well rested and the opportunity presented itself.

Hale’s questionable decision came in the sixth inning with the score 2-1 Yankees. Eovaldi helped himself with the bat by dropping a sacrifice bunt to move Headley to second base with two out. Hale went to the mound to talk to D-backs starter Shelby Miller but let him pitch to Jacoby Ellsbury, who had already reached base three times in the game and had never made an out against Miller. That statement held when Ellsbury hit a ground single to left that scored Headley and made Ellsbury 6-for-6 in his career against Miller. Ellsbury reached base five times in the game with a double, two singles and two walks and scored on the ninth-inning wild pitch. Right behind him was Gardner with two hits, a run and two RBI.

Eovaldi has four consecutive winning decisions over his past five starts with a 3.48 ERA over 31 innings. Chase Field is also something of a home away from home for Eovaldi, who in six career games (five starts) in the Phoenix yard is 3-0 with a 2.67 ERA in 30 1/3 innings and has held opponents to a .165 batting average in 103 at-bats.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 27 other followers