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Yanks’ bench growing short with injuries

The Yankees went with an eight-man bullpen to get through the four-game series against the Red Sox, but it left them with a shallow bench that was pretty hollow in Sunday night’s finale when injuries mounted.

Francisco Cervelli, who started at first base, had to come out of the game in the fourth inning when he hurt his right hamstring trying to avoid hitting into a double play. A DP call was overturned through replay, which so infuriated Red Sox manager John Farrell that he was ejected for arguing the call, the change of which gave the Yankees a run for a 3-1 lead.

Meanwhile, Cervelli was exiting the field as Ichiro Suzuki took over as a pinch runner. Suzuki stayed in the game in right field with Carlos Beltran, who hit a two-run home run in the third inning, coming in to play first base for the first time in his major-league career. Other than an occasional game as a designated hitter, Beltran has only played the outfield.

With Mark Texeira on the disabled list, Kelly Johnson has played first base, but he was needed at third base Sunday night because Yangervis Solarte had to play second base with Brian Roberts nursing a sore back. Dean Anna was at shortstop for Derek Jeter, who was out with a tight right quad.

Once Ichiro got in the game, it left the ailing Jeter and Roberts as the only position players on the bench. And with Cervelli gone, the Yanks were without their backup catcher. Manager Joe Girardi told the ESPN crew that his third-string catcher was Anna, “although he doesn’t know it yet.”

Aggressive play on bases proves costly

The Yankees ran themselves out of a potentially big inning in the first Sunday night and did so with two of their best base runners. Carlos Beltran, who singled with one out, was at third base and Jacoby Ellsbury, who followed with a double, was on second when Alfonso Soriano hit a fly ball to center field.

It appeared to be a routine sacrifice fly as Beltran trotted toward the plate. As it turned out, it would have been better if Beltran ran a bit harder. Ellsbury also tried to tag up, and that was where the run was lost.

Red Sox center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr. made a strong throw to third base that cut down Ellsbury before Beltran crossed the plate, nullifying the run the Yankees thought they had. In hindsight, Ellsbury might have been better off staying at second base. That way, Beltran would have scored easily with Bradley throwing to third base. Yet aggressiveness on the bases is a big part of Ellsbury’s game. It took a perfect throw to get him. Bradley unfortunately unleashed one.

While the Yankees were playing without Derek Jeter, the Red Sox were without their spark plug, second baseman Dustin Pedroia, who returned to Boston to have his painful left wrist examined. Pedroia jammed the wrist last week. The condition worsened to the point that he could not complete batting practice before the game and was scratched from the lineup.

Jeter riding the pine again

Yankees fans coming to see Derek Jeter play Sunday night at Yankee Stadium were disappointed again. For the second straight game, Jeter was on the bench as rookie back-up infielder Dean Anna was the shortstop for the Yankees in the four-game series finale against the Red Sox on ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball.

Yankees manager Joe Girardi intended to play Jeter Sunday night but decided to be caution because the Captain has a strained right quad. The area tightened up on him Friday night. Jeter did not play Saturday. Girardi reasoned that with an open date Monday Jeter will have sufficient time for the injury to heal and be ready to play Tuesday night against the Cubs in an inter-league game at the Stadium.

“He’s not real happy,” Girardi said of Jeter, who is batting .286 in 35 at-bats. “I told him missing one game is better than missing four to six weeks, if something were to happen.”

Jeter has a history of hating the bench, and with this being his final season following an injury-riddled 2013 season that reduced his output to 17 games he is all the more anxious to play.

“He has been that way since Day 1,’ Girardi said. “He used to fight Joe [Torre]. ‘How am I going to break Cal’s [Ripken Jr.'s] record if you keep doing this to me?’ he would say. It is never a real comfortable situation when you tell him you are going to give him a day. I think he understands what I’m trying to do. In his heart he just wants to be out there. He’s 39 years old. I think you have to be smart about it. There are times where you are going to have to give him a day off.”

Bronx Bombers are back

Welcome back, Bronx Bombers!

The long ball returned to Yankee Stadium Saturday on a sunny, breezy afternoon. The Yankees launched five home runs, nearly matching their season total prior to the game, in a 7-4 victory over the Red Sox. Four of the blows came off Boston starter John Lackey, who had allowed only one home run previously in 13 innings of his first two starts when he was 2-0 with a 1.38 ERA. That ERA took a hit Saturday in jumping to 3.86.

As recently as two years ago, the Yankee set a club record in home runs with 245. This year has been a different story. They did not hit a home run in 2014 until the season’s sixth game. Entering play Saturday, the Yanks’ home run total was seven through 11 games, which put them on pace for a measly 103 over the 162-game schedule. In one game, they increased that season pace to 162.

It was good to see Brian McCann break out of an early-season slump. The catcher clouted two home runs, a solo shot in the fourth inning and a two-run blast in the sixth. They were the first extra-base hits this season for McCann, who went into the game batting .162.

“Every day he has come to the park with a smile on his face, but I am sure he was storing up some emotions, although he never went over the top,” manager Joe Girardi said. “When you come to a new place, you want to get off to a fast start and show why the club signed you in the first place.”

McCann had already drawn rave reviews for his handling of the pitching staff, a quality that marked his success in Atlanta. That is one element of the catcher’s role on a team. He works so closely with the pitchers that taking batting practice is often the last thing on his mind.

“I stayed the course,” McCann said. “I’ve tried to stay positive. That first home run felt pretty good. Absolutely.”

Carlos Beltran started the home run derby with a two-run rocket to right field in the first inning. Alfonso Soriano, making his first career start in right field, followed McCann’s fourth-inning jack with a solo tater of his own to take the club lead at three. Kelly Johnson tied Soriano with his third home run of the season in the eighth off Burke Badenhop.

It was McCann’s 10th career multi-homer game and first since May 28 last year at Toronto. His and Soriano’s back-to-back showing was the first for the Yankees since June 6 last year by Robinson Cano and Mark Teixeira at Seattle.

Soriano’s only previous appearance in right field was in Game 5 of the 2003 World Series for the Yankees at Miami when he played one inning. Girardi thought he would give Sori a break from the tough sun field in left at the Stadium. Soriano made an error in the sixth when he dropped a fly ball Xander Bogaerts, but it caused no damaging effect other than embarrassment.

Hiroki Kuroda (2-1) benefit from the homer onslaught to notch the winning decision. He was touched for a two-run homer in the second by A.J. Pierzynski. Kuroda came out in the seventh after walking two batters, both of whom later scored, but Dellin Betances, Adam Warren and Shawn Kelley (second save) did a strong job in relief.

Girardi’s toughest job is keeping Jeter fresh

Memo to Yankees fans: Do not expect to see Derek Jeter in the starting lineup just because you bought a ticket.

That was the message Saturday from manager Joe Girardi, who gave Jeter a day off and started rookie Dean Anna at shortstop, which must have been a disappointment to most people in a sellout crowd of 48,572 at Yankee Stadium for the afternoon game against the Red Sox.

This will be Jeter’s final season in the major leagues, and many a fan will want to get one more look at the Captain in person. But as the manager in charge of the lineup and keeping his players fresh, Girardi feels the need to give his aging shortstop (DJ turns 40 in June) a blow now and then.

“I have to manage him with a focus of winning games and keeping him healthy, not being a farewell tour,” Girardi said before the game. “I wasn’t hired to put on a farewell tour.”

And yet, this is the second consecutive season that Girardi has had to oversee a star player in his final season. Jeter follows Mariano Rivera’s swan song from 2013. But in Mo’s case, fans could never be sure they would see him in a game because of his role as closer. There was no guarantee that Rivera would get into a game whereas the absence of Jeter as a regular position player is more noticeable.

“There is not a whole lot I can do about that,” Girardi said. “When you start running guys out there too much, you risk injury. I think people would be a little bit more upset if he were out two weeks or a month or something like that. I understand that fans want to see him play. I want to see him play. I would like to run him out there 162 times. But I have to do what is best for him and the team.”

Let’s face it; Jeter cannot start every game at his age, and Girardi is taking the correct approach in trying to ensure that the Captain stays healthy enough to start as many games as possible.

One bad inning sinks Sabathia

For five innings Friday night, CC Sabathia was pitching as the ace that Yankees fans have come to appreciate. With a fastball that was in the 90-miles-per-hour range and a devastating slider, the big lefthander held the Red Sox in check. He limited them to one hit and two walks, struck out six batters and got eight other outs in the infield.

It was not vintage Sabathia from his Cy Young Award days when the fastball was more muscular, but it was a cagier and slyer Sabathia who had Boston hitters guessing and oft times wrong. The lone hit to that point was a leadoff double by Red Sox catcher David Ross in the third inning. Sabathia retired the next three batters on ground balls to prevent Ross from scoring.

Then came the sixth inning, and everything went wrong for the big guy. Jonny Gomes led off with a home run off a 1-0 fastball that tied the score. Alfonso Soriano had given CC a 1-0 lead in the second inning with a home run off Jon Lester.

After striking out Dustin Pedroia, Sabathia gave up a single to David Ortiz on an excuse-me, half-swing of a dribbler to the vacated left side of the infield as the Yankees were employing an over-shift on Big Papi. Mike Napoli singled on a soft line drove to center field, but there was nothing soft about Grady Sizemore’s drive off a hanging slider on 0-1 that reached the second deck in right field for a demoralizing, three-run homer.

“I thought he had good command and threw the ball decent,” manager Joe Girardi said of Sabathia. “He hung a slider, and Sizemore did not miss it. One pitch in a tight game sometimes it’s going to beat you.”

No one welcomed the offensive display more than Lester, who before that inning had watched his teammates score merely one run in his first 19 1/3 innings on the mound this year, which explains why he entered the game with a record of 0-2 despite a 2.51 ERA.

The Yankees tried to get Sabathia off the hook with a two-out rally in the seventh but got only one run on a Kelly Johnson single that chased Lester.

Sabathia’s ERA actually came down from 7.50 but is still an unseemly 6.63 after three starts as his record fell to 1-2. His nine strikeouts lifted his total with the Yankees to 1,017, which moved him past Roger Clemens into 10th place on the franchise’s career list. Next up in ninth place at 1,028 is Al Downing.

Winfield to be honored at Negro Leagues Museum

Former Yankees outfielder Dave Winfield is among four Hall of Fame players who will make up the inaugural class of the Negro Leagues Baseball Hall of Game. Lou Brock, Joe Morgan and the late Roberto Clemente will also be honored Saturday in induction ceremonies at the Negro League Baseball Museum and Gem Theater in Kansas City, Mo.

The day-long festivities include a press conference, VIP meet-and-greet, reception and dinner at the NLBM — followed by the Hall of Game inductions at the Gem Theater at 8 p.m.

The Hall of Game will annually honor former major league players who best exemplified the spirit and signature style of play that made Negro Leagues baseball a fan favorite. Inductees will also receive permanent recognition as part of the future Buck O’Neil Education and Research Center being developed by the NLBM at the site of the Paseo YMCA where Andrew “Rube” Foster established the Negro National League Feb. 13, 1920.

“This is truly a historic and proud day as we continue our efforts to celebrate the heritage of baseball,” NLBM president Bob Kendrick said. “The Hall of Game celebrates both the style and substance of the Negro Leagues which represented professional baseball at its absolute finest. Our inaugural class of Major League inductees were all, in their unique ways, connected to the Negro Leagues experience. Their play was reflective and reminiscent of that common thread and we’re delighted to welcome them into the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum.”

In 2008, Winfield developed the Major League Baseball honorary draft of Negro League players by all 30 MLB teams. “It was a bridge between baseball’s past and baseball’s present,” said Winfield, who had 465 home runs among his 3,110 career hits over 22 seasons. “For all the surviving players and everyone involved, it was a wonderful day.”

MLB: No discipline against Pineda

In the latest much ado about nothing episode in baseball, Major League Baseball has no plans to discipline Yankees pitcher Michael Pineda for his apparent use of pine tar on his right hand in Thursday night’s victory over the Red Sox.

“The umpires did not observe an application of a foreign substance during the game and the issue was not raised by the Red Sox,” MLB said in a statement. “Given those circumstances, there are no plans to issue a suspension, but we intend to talk to the Yankees regarding what occurred.”

The incident was spurred by social media as photos of Pineda’s hand circulated across the Internet. Boston manager John Farrell said before Friday night’s game that the Red Sox were made aware of the situation, but by the time they knew about it Pineda had washed off the substance.

Pitchers often resort to using pine tar in cold weather to improve their grip. The Red Sox had two separate incidents last year of their pitchers putting foreign substances on the ball.

Derek Jeter’s two hits Thursday night moved him past Joe DiMaggio into third place on the Yankees’ career hit list against the Red Sox. DJ entered play Friday night with 324 career hits against Boston pitching, one more than Joe D. The only Yankees players with more career hits against the Red Sox than Jeter not surprisingly are Babe Ruth with 404 and Lou Gehrig with 347.

Happy Birthday to Mark Teixeira, who turned 34.

Pineda comeback gaining momentum

It certainly looks as if Michael Pineda is the real deal. The Yankees had to wait it out for the righthander to recover fully from shoulder surgery in May 2012, only four months after he was acquired in a trade from the Mariners that sent catching prospect Jesus Montero and pitcher Hector Noesi to Seattle.

Pineda did not pitch in the major leagues last year or the season before, a long wait for the Yankees to find out if the trade was to their benefit. He pitched in 40 2/3 innings in three minor-league stops in the Yankees’ system in 2013. But with Montero lingering in the minor leagues and Noesi released by the Mariners, the swap is leaning in the Yankees’ favor.

Pineda turned in another solid outing Thursday night and earned his first victory since 2011 as the Yankees turned back the Red Sox, 4-1. Pineda took a no-hitter into the fifth inning against the defending World Series champions and lasted two batters into the seventh before manager Joe Girardi went to his bullpen.

Through two starts covering 12 innings, Pineda is pitching to a 1.50 ERA. He did not allow a hit Thursday night until the fifth inning when Xander Bogaerts led off with a single to left and held Boston scoreless until the seventh when Daniel Nava led off with his first home run of the season. Bogaerts followed with a single up the middle, which brought Girardi to the mound.

The manager was delighted at what he saw for six-plus innings from Pineda, an imposing 6-foot-7 and 265 pounds who walked two batters and struck out seven. The Yankees gave him the lead with two unearned runs off Clay Buchholz in the fourth inning and tacked on two runs in the fifth, including second baseman Dean Anna’s first career home run.

“We’re very encouraged,” Girardi said of Pineda. “He threw first-pitch strikes and gave us length, which we really needed.”

Girardi was hit with post-game questions about video replays circulated on social media showing a substance in Pineda’s right hand. On cold nights, it is not uncommon for pitchers to use pine tar to improve their grip. I saw Buchholz reach back at a spot on his neck to touch something, which was probably the same thing. Pineda made no secret of whatever it was to umpires as he exposed his palm numerous times.

In his first game against his old team, Jacoby Ellsbury had 1-for-4 with a run and an RBI. Derek Jeter raised his batting average to .290 with a single and a double. David Phelps earned his first career save with 2 1/3 innings of hitless, three-strikeout relief.

Ellsbury draws blood vs. Red Sox

Jacoby Ellsbury hurt his old team Thursday night as the Yankees and Red Sox renewed their ancient rivalry in the opener of a four-game series. Ellsbury, who departed Boston where he was a member of two World Series champions to sign a seven-year contract with the Yankees, drove in a run in the fifth inning with a single

The hit scored Derek Jeter, who had doubled with two out. Ellsbury, who had been expected to be the Yankees’ leadoff hitter, has proved valuable in the 3-hole where he can take advantage of RBI situations. The injury to Mark Teixeira (strained right hamstring) prompted manager Joe Girardi to toy with his lineup as he moved Brett Gardner to leadoff and dropped Ellsbury to third.

Dean Anna opened the fifth for the Yankees with his first major-league home run, taking Clay Buchholz deep on a 1-1 pitch. Anna started at second base in place of slimping Brian Roberts. The Yankees acquired Anna in a trade from the Padres. Playing with San Diego’s Triple A Tucson affiliate last year, Anna led the Pacific Coast League in batting with a .331 average. The Yanks liked his versatility in the infield this spring.

The Yankees’ first two runs, in the fourth inning, were unearned. An error by third baseman Jonathan Herrera on a grounder by Ellsbury opened the gate for the Yankees. After Carlos Beltran singled to right field, Brian McCann ended a 0-for-14 slump with a single over first base and down the right field line that scored Ellsbury and sent Beltran to third. Beltran scored the second run as Alfonso Soriano grounded into a double play.

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