Tanaka, Ellsbury handle pressure at Fenway

The Yankees originally intended to keep Masahiro Tanaka away from the Red Sox in the first two series against their rivals this year until the Japanese righthander had more solid footing in the major leagues. They did not pitch him against Boston in spring training, either.

But last week’s rainout at Yankee Stadium against the Cubs that led to a split-admission doubleheader the next day altered manager Joe Girardi’s rotation and resulted in Tanaka having to start Tuesday night at Fenway Park. He was certainly up to the task in a 9-2 Yankees victory, their fourth in five games against the Red Sox this season.

The Yankees gave Tanaka something of a comfort zone by taking a 2-0 lead in the top of the first inning off Jon Lester, who was not at his best.

In his first game at Fenway since departing the Red Sox and signing with the Yankees as a free agent, Jacoby Ellsbury was celebrated by Boston fans, who cheered a pre-game video tribute to his contributions to two World Series championship teams. Once the game got under way, it was a different story as boos far outnumbered cheers for Ellsbury.

The fleet center fielder responded the best way he could — with his bat and his glove. Ellsbury began the game with a drive off the center field wall that was interfered with by a fan and was awarded a triple. Derek Jeter promptly got Ellsbury home with a single to center. That ran the Captain’s hitting streak to 11 games. It is the 47th double-figure hitting streak of Jeter’s career. That ties him with Hall of Famer Tris Speaker for the third highest total in history. The others in front of them are also Hall of Famers — Ty Cobb with 66 and Hank Aaron with 48.

A passed ball and throwing error by Boston catcher A.J. Pierzynski helped the Yanks to an unearned run later on a single by Carlos Beltran. Surprisingly shoddy defense by the Red Sox did not help Lester. All four rune he allowed in the fifth inning were not earned due to an error by first baseman Mike Napoli. The Yankees earned their two runs in the third off Lester on successive doubles by Alfonso Soriano, Mark Teixeira and Brian McCann.

Yankees’ defense was just the opposite. Ellsbury set the tone in the bottom of the first with a sliding catch of a liner that robbed Grady Sizemore of a potential extra-base hit. Dustin Pedroia hit the ball hard as well for a double, but Tanaka came back to strike out David Ortiz and Napoli.

Those same two sluggers took Tanaka deep in back-to-back fashion in the fourth, but that was all the damage he sustained. The Yankees spent a small fortune on Tanaka, but at this point he looks like a bargain. He ran his record to 3-0 with a 2.15 ERA with another 7 1/3 sturdy innings. In 29 1/3 innings, Tanaka has allowed 22 hits and only two walks with 35 strikeouts.

His record in Japan last year was 24-0. Can he go 24-0 here this year?

Surgery recommended for Nova

The worse-case scenario regarding Ivan Nova hit the Yankees’ pitching staff Tuesday. Dr. Chris Ahmad, the Yanks’ team physician, confirmed the original diagnosis of a partial tear of Nova’s right ulnar collateral ligament after viewing an MRI of the righthander at New York Presbyterian Hospital. Dr. Ahmad recommended surgery.

Now it is up to Nova how to proceed. Players dealing with their first major injury are often hesitant to undergo surgery. Nova might seek another opinion, but it would likely just be another confirmation. The longer Nova waits to make a decision the longer it will be before he can get back on a mound again.

The recovery period from Tommy John surgery that was developed by the late Dr. Frank Jobe is between 12 and 18 months, probably for Nova because of his youth (27) closer to that first number. If Nova opts for the surgery now, he may be back pitching by the middle of the 2015 season.

It is a deep wound for the Yankees’ rotation. They had been counting on Nova for 15 to 20 victories this year. His spot in the rotation for the time being will be taken by lefthander Vidal Nuno, who started for the Yanks Sunday at St. Petersburg and pitched five shutout innings. Righthanders David Phelps and Adam Warren are also potential candidates down the line but are now pertinent members of the bullpen.

On the plus side for the Yankees’ staff, David Robertson was reinstated from the disabled list and back in his closer role as the Yanks opened a three-game series at Fenway Park.

New MSL soccer team to play at Stadium in 2015

Mariano Rivera was back at Yankee Stadium this week, but instead of appearing in the capacity of closer he was more of a starter. Rivera was introduced Monday as the first season-ticket holder of the Major League Soccer expansion team, NYCFC, which will play its first season of 2015 at the Stadium.

The franchise, which was created in a partnership between the Yankees and Manchester City of England’s Premier League, hopes to build a soccer-only facility in New York City eventually, but for the time being its 17-game home schedule will be in the Bronx.

“I’m proud to be the first one,” Rivera told a press conference gathering at the Stadium. “I’m used to being the closer, always the last one. I’m a starter now, so I’m happy to be No. 1 and a big supporter of the team.”

Manchester City and Liverpool will oppose each other at the Stadium in July, one of several matches that have been played at the Stadium in recent years. The Stadium has also been the site of the popular New Era Pinstripe Bowl as well as other college football games, National Hockey League matches featuring the Rangers, Islanders and Devils and musical concerts.

“I’ve always said that Yankee Stadium is the greatest place in the world,” Yankees president Randy Levine said. “Every athlete, every performer wants to play here. When we entered into the partnership with Manchester City, we said we were all in. And we are all in. To develop this franchise with this kind of management team, with all of us working together – these two great organizations – it’s going to be a championship franchise.”

The soccer field at the Stadium will run horizontally. The mound will have to be stripped each time NYCFC has a home game. The mound area will be just off the sideline, two feet and 10 inches off the field, and the closest corner will have eight feet and nine inches of clearance from the wall. The grounds crew will have to lay the field and strip it in time to re-lay the baseball diamond. Levine said the team has done its due diligence and believes the schedule won’t be a problem, and he’s excited about the prospect of top-class soccer.

Yankees chief operating officer Lonn Trost said the mound will be lifted up and stored each time the field is restructured and added that it is possible to use special lights to grow grass at night in order to ease the field rehabilitation process.

Capacity for baseball at the Stadium is 49,642 but is expected to be 33,444 for soccer because the grandstand and terraces will be closed off for most MSL home games.

“The field conversion takes about three days,” Trost said. “Could we do it in two and a half? Yeah, if we work around the clock. Taking the field and putting it back for baseball? Same thing. Three days, but we can push it in two and a half. We’re analyzing that when it comes to the schedule.”

Claudio Reyna, a native of Livingston, N.J., and the NYCFC’s director of football operations, said, “Growing up locally in New Jersey, I certainly never would’ve imagined that a professional
soccer team would be calling Yankee Stadium its home. Yankee Stadium has always felt like an institution to me. I can’t think of a more iconic place or venue for us to play our home games.”

“I’m thinking today I live a pretty charmed life,” said head coach Jason Kreis, the 1999 MSL Most Valuable Player who in his first stint as a coach led Real Salt Lake to the 2009 title. “I work for two of the greatest sports franchises in the world, and then I find out I get to coach soccer next year in one of the all-time greatest stadiums in the world. And I’ll be doing all this in the greatest city in the world. I’m extremely excited about the opportunity and very much looking forward to being out there on the sidelines next year.”

“It’s been no secret to anybody that our plans all along were to be in a first home while we pursued a deal to do a soccer-specific stadium in the five boroughs,” said Tim Pernetti, the former Rutgers athletic director and now the chief business officer for NYCFC. “We are continuing to do that. We’re conducting the same thorough search looking at sites and developing that plan. Our goal is to be in a soccer-specific building as soon as possible. At the same time, we’re not going to create artificial deadlines based on pressure that comes from different directions. We’re only going to get one shot to do that, so I think we’re going to take the time necessary to get it done.”

MLS will expand by two teams next season with New York and Orlando and will add Atlanta in 2017 and possibly Miami that year or the next.

“As you look at the league, it’s a great testament that this sport is continuing to grow dramatically all over the world,” Pernetti said. “The fact that there is an appetite from some of the most successful people in professional sports in the United States to continue its growth speaks volumes about where the league is headed. We’re taking our role in this thing very seriously. We’re going to create a great experience for our fans, create a great product on the field.”

Nova placed on DL, may require elbow surgery

Following two nights in which the Yankees surrendered 27 runs to the Rays, the news continued to get worse for the pitching staff. An MRI on righthander Ivan Nova late Saturday night revealed a partial tear of the ulnar collateral ligament of his pitching elbow. Nova was placed on the 15-day disabled list Sunday and will be further examined Monday in New York by Yankees team physician Dr. Christopher Ahmad.

There was no decision yet as to whether Nova will undergo surgery, although that is often the case with such an injury. A Tommy John procedure would render Nova unavailable for 12 to 18 months. Lefthander Vidal Nuno was the emergency starter for the Yankees Sunday at Tropicana Field. The rotation was disrupted by last Tuesday’s rainout, which forced manager Joe Girardi to use two starters, Masahiro Tanaka and Michael Pineda, on the same day in Wednesday’s split-admission doubleheader against the Cubs at Yankee Stadium.

Other reinforcements were recalled from the minors for Sunday’s game, righthanders Preston Claiborne from Triple A Scranton and Bryan Mitchell from Double A Trenton. Righthander Matt Daley, who was recalled Saturday and gave up six runs (four earned), five hits and two walks in 1 1/3 innings in Saturday night’s 16-1 pasting, was designated for assignment. The Yankees also reinstated first baseman Mark Teixeira from the DL and optioned infielder Scott Sizemore to Scranton.

Yankees bashed again; Nova hurt

A couple of regular Yankee killers had plenty of help from their teammates in killing the Yankees Saturday night. Evan Longoria and Chris Archer had their usual success against the Yankees, but so did a whole bunch of other Tampa Bay Rays.

Clearly, the Rays have awaken from their early-season offensive malaise the past two nights against the Yankees. Tampa Bay followed Friday night’s 11-5 bashing with a 16-1 slaughterhouse Saturday night. By the seventh inning, the many changes in both team’s lineups made the game resemble a spring training exhibition.

The Yankees’ bullpen has been so depleted through these two games that manager Joe Girardi used utility infielder Dean Anna on the mound in the eighth inning. Anna, who started the game at shortstop for resting Derek Jeter, gave up two runs and three hits in his first major-league pitching assignment.

Even worse news for the Yanks was that losing pitcher Ivan Nova was removed from the game in the fifth inning because of right elbow soreness. That could explain why he was so ineffective. The righthander was lit up for eight earned runs and eight hits, including four home runs, in four-plus innings as his ERA soared to 8.27.

The Rays had five home runs in all — two apiece by Wil Myers and Ryan Hanigan and one by Longoria. Hanigan drove in six runs and Myers and Longoria four each as part of the 16-hit attack.

Longoria’s home run was career No. 164 to set a Tampa Bay franchise record, passing the previous record holder, Carlos Pena. It was also Longoria’s 26th career homer against the Yankees, the most of any player since 2008, the third baseman’s American League Jackie Robinson Rookie of the Year Award season. The next closest over that stretch is the Blue Jays’ Jose Bautista with 19.

Over about the same amount of plate appearances against the Yankees as Longoria, Red Sox designated hitter David Ortiz has 15 home runs, which indicates how powerful Longoria has been. Longoria is a .314 career hitter with 19 doubles and 71 RBI in 338 at-bats against the Yankees.

Archer continued his winning ways against the Yankees. The righthander gave up one run and three hits with no walks and four strikeouts in 6 2/3 innings to improve his career mark against them to 4-0 with a 1.26 ERA in 28 2/3 innings. Last year, Archer became the first rookie pitcher to beat the Yankees three times in a season since Kevin Brown did it for the Rangers in 1989. Brown later pitched for the Yankees.

It was a quiet night for the Yankees’ offense. They managed only three hits with a two-out double by Kelly Johnson in the fifth inning driving in their only run. Rays pitching retired the Yankees’ last 13 hitters in a row.

Yankees add bullpen reinforcement

Cesar Cabral was designated for assignment following his atrocious relief outing Friday night in the Yankees’ 11-5 loss at St. Petersburg, Fla., in which he lefthander allowed three hits, hit three batters with pitches and threw a wild pitch without getting an out. The performance, if one could call it that, also forced Yankees manager Joe Girardi to use Shawn Kelley, whom he had hoped to avoid.

With the bullpen in tatters after Friday night, the Yankees added Matt Daley, a righthander from Garden City, Long Island, to the 25-man roster Saturday. Daley, 31, pitched in seven games for the Yankees last year and had a 1-0 record without allowing a run in six innings. He pitched for the Rockies from 2009-11.

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Cabral became the 21st pitcher in Yankees history to hit three-or-more batters in a single game. Elias research also noted that the Yankees’ single-game franchise high of four hit batters was set by lefthander Tommy Byrne in a 12-8 victory July 5, 1950 at Yankee Stadium against the Philadelphia Athletics. Byrne hit two batters in the first inning and two more in the third on the way to earning the victory (5 IP, 6H, 4ER, 6BB, 1K, 4HP). Byrne led the majors in hit batters in 1950 with 17. The Yankees’ record for hit batters in a season is 26 by righthander Jack Warhop in 1909.

Rookie infielder Yangervis Solarte went into Saturday night’s game ranked second in the American League in batting with a .370 average in 54 at-bats. He was also tied for second with seven doubles, second with a .452 on-base percentage and first with a .480 road batting average. . .With eight stolen bases, center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury was tied with Rangers shortstop Elvis Andrus for the AL lead and tied for third in the majors behind only Dodgers second baseman Dee Gordon (10) and Mets outfielder Eric Young Jr. (9).

Uncharacteristic breakdown by bullpen

One of the major questions facing the Yankees in 2014 was how they would deal with life without Mariano Rivera. Yet even with new closer David Robertson gone to the disabled list with a groin injury, the bullpen has been one of the Yankees’ strengths in the season’s first month.

Until Friday night, however.

Relief was nowhere to be found as the Yankees sustained an 11-5 ripping by the Rays, who stopped a four-game losing streak and ended the Yanks’ five-game winning streak as well.

By game’s end, it was hard to believe that the Yankees were once in command having held leads of 4-0 and 5-3. Until the last two innings, it appeared that Hiroki Kuroda would finally win a road game, which he has not done since July 25 last year at Arlington, Texas.

Kuroda departed with two outs in the sixth as Tampa Bay turned it into a one-run game. Alfonso Soriano’s RBI single in the seventh got the Yanks what seemed an insurance run, but they must not have paid the premium.

The Rays attacked the bullpen for three runs in the bottom of the seventh to take the lead and tacked on five more runs in the eighth as the Yanks’ pen simply exploded. It got so crazy that Cesar Cabral was ejected from the game by plate umpire Joe West after he hit his third batter of the inning. Cabral faced six batters in the eighth, all of whom reached base on three hits and three plunks. In addition to all that, Cabral even threw a wild pitch.

Cabral’s ejection forced Yankees manager Joe Girardi to bring Shawn Kelley, nominally the closer with Robertson on the DL, into the game to get the final out of the inning.

The pen entered the game unscored upon in its previous seven games covering 15 1/3 innings. The relief corps had held hitters to a .188 batting average with six walks and 22 strikeouts over that stretch.

Friday night, however, the Rays whacked Yankees relievers at a .563 clip and battered them for eight runs in 2 1/3 innings. David Phelps was forced to leave the game when he was struck in the stomach by a line drive. Matt Thornton and Adam Warren followed and could not control the Rays before Cabral came in and all hell broke loose.

Amazingly, all 11 of Tampa Bay’s runs were scored after two were out. It was a decided downer for the Yankees, who are catching the Rays at a time of weakness with two of their top pitchers, Matt Moore and Alex Cobb, on the shelf. Career pin cushion Eric Bedard was the seventh different pitcher to start for Tampa Bay already this year, and the Yanks knocked him out of the game by the fourth inning in building that 4-0 lead, which by the end of the long evening seemed part of another game.

Beltran aching but not hurt seriously

The Yankees were relieved that an MRI exam of Carlos Beltran’s left shoulder and right wrist came back negative. Just to be cautious, manager Joe Girardi kept Beltran on the bench Friday night.

The right fielder tumbled over a fence in foul territory down the right field line while chasing a fly ball in Thursday night’s 10-2 victory over the Rays at St. Petersburg, Fla. Beltran remained in the game but said Friday that his shoulder and wrist were sore. Ichiro Suzuki played right field despite Tampa Bay starting a lefthander, Eric Bedard.

Beltran is expected to play again Saturday night. Also out of the lineup despite a three-hit game (single, double, triple) Thursday night was Brian Roberts. Girardi said he wanted to keep Roberts, who has had back soreness recently, off the artificial surface at Tropicana Field for at least one of the four games scheduled there this weekend.

The triple play turned by the Yankees in the second inning Thursday night was the 24th in franchise history and their third over the past five seasons, all with CC Sabathia on the mound. Third baseman Yangervis Solarte started the triple killing by fielding a ground ball by Sean Rodriguez, tagging third and throwing to Roberts at second for the second out. Roberts’ relay to first was in the dirt but picked out by Scott Sizemore, who was playing the position for the first time in the major leagues.

The Yankees’ previous triple play was April 12, 2013 at Yankee Stadium against the Orioles. It was a wild play with three of the four infielders — second baseman Robinson Cano, third baseman Kevin Youkilis and shortstop Derek Jeter — each touching the ball twice. The first baseman who got the assist on the third out was Lyle Overbay.

Cano, third baseman Alex Rodriguez and first baseman Nick Johnson collaborated on a triple play behind Sabathia April 22, 2010 at Oakland. That ended a 42-year drought between triple plays for the Yankees. Their previous one before then was June 3, 1968 by pitcher Dooley Womack, third baseman Bobby Cox and first baseman Mickey Mantle against the Twins at the Stadium.

Yanks make Price pay this time

David Price usually has the edge over CC Sabathia whenever the former American League Cy Young Award winners face each other, but that was not the case Thursday night. The Yankees punished Price for past losses and gave Sabathia all the offense a pitcher could want in a 10-2 victory.

Price lasted only five innings and was mugged for 10 hits — six for extra bases — as the Yankees hit for the cycle against him. There were doubles by Scott Sizemore, Yangervis Solarte, Brian Roberts and Derek Jeter, triples by Roberts and Jacoby Ellsbury and home runs by Alfonso Soriano and Brian McCann to send Price, the 2012 AL Cy Young Award winner, to his first loss of the season.

Price entered the game with a 6-1 record and 2.41 ERA in his pairings with Sabathia. That ERA climbed to 3.06 after the Yankees banged him around this time. It was also the first time since he won the AL Cy Young Award in 2012 that Price lost a game against a former Cy Young winner. He had defeated R.A. Dickey twice and Tim Lincecum and Sabathia once apiece prior to Thursday night’s loss.

Sabathia, the AL Cy Young Award winner with the Indians in 2007, stayed out of the one big, bad inning that had characterized earlier starts. His teammates in the infield kept a potential big inning from developing in the second by pulling off a triple play.

The Rays’ first run off Sabathia was not earned due to a passed ball by Brian McCann. CC gave up a home run to Sean Rodriguez leading off the seventh, which turned out to be the big lefthander’s last inning. He scattered six other hits, walked two and struck out six to even his 2014 record at 2-2.

CC has had a tough go of it against Tampa Bay. Thursday night’s victory improved his career mark against the Rays to 12-13 and 4-8 at Tropicana Field. Since joining the Yankees, Sabathia’s record against the Rays is 5-12.

The Yankees’ fifth straight victory followed Wednesday’s sweep of a split-admission doubleheader in which they blanked the Cubs, 3-0 and 2-0, the first time in 26 years that a major-league club won both ends of a twin bill by shutouts since the Twins won, 11-0 and 5-0, May 6, 1988 at Oakland. The previous time the Yankees did it was April 19, 1987 over the Royals, 5-0 and 1-0.

Solarte had another big night, climaxed by his first major-league home run, off Grant Balfour in the ninth inning. Solarte also doubled and singled and started the triple play.

Roberts, who entered the game mired in a 1-for-25 slump and having missed three games with back issues, had a triple, a double and a single and drove in two runs. Soriano also had three hits with Ellsbury, Jeter and McCann adding two apiece in the 16-hit onslaught.

Yankees triple their pleasure behind CC

There are probably hundreds of first basemen in major league history who were never part of a triple play. Getting an inning’s full compliment of outs on a single play is rare. But there was Scott Sizemore in his first career game as a first baseman Thursday night completing a triple killing that was the third turned behind CC Sabathia over the past five seasons.

Sizemore, who does not even own a first baseman’s glove, played a major part in the triple play that wiped out a potential Tampa Bay rally in the second inning. Sabathia was working with a 4-0 lead but got into trouble when Evan Longoria doubled to right-center and Wil Myers walked.

Sean Rodriguez followed with a grounder down the third base line. Yangervis Solarte gloved it a foot from the bag, stepped on it and fired to second baseman Brian Roberts for the force there. Roberts’ relay was in the dirt, but Sizemore made a fine scoop to complete the trip-up. He made the play wearing Kelly Johnson’s glove. Manager Joe Girardi went with Sizemore at first base to get another right-handed bat into the lineup against Price, a move that paid off. Sizemore doubled leading off the top of the second and scored on a triple by Roberts, who was back in the lineup after missing three games because of lower-back stiffness.

One out later, Jacoby Ellsbury also tripled. This inning was all about triples one way or the other. Derek Jeter made it 4-0 with a single to center off a two-strike slider from Price, who was not as formidable as he often has been against the Yankees.

The Yanks are hoping the first-base situation will clear up perhaps as early as Sunday when Teixeira could return from the disabled list. Tex is working out in the extended spring program at Tampa, just across the Bay from Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg.

The Yankees got a scare in the third inning when Carlos Beltran toppled over a fence down the right field line chasing a foul ball by Desmond Jennings. Beltran apparently landed safely because he climbed back over the wall and continued playing. With the Cardinals in the World Series last year, Beltran fell into the bullpen at Fenway Park. Beltran has got to familiarize himself with American League yards.

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