Sweep has Yanks motoring into Motor City

After limping out of Baltimore where they lost two of three games to begin the current trip, the Yankees got upright at Tampa Bay. Did they ever.

Their first sweep of a series of three or more games at Tropicana Field in nearly 10 years was just the antidote the Yankees needed to move on to Detroit where they will play the team with the best record (10-2) in the major leagues over the next four days. After that, they pair up against the club with the best current mark in the National League, the 10-3 Mets back at Yankee Stadium for the first round of the Subway Series.

The Yankees’ offense came alive and their bullpen thrived in the three games at St. Petersburg, Fla., against a Tampa Bay club that has given them trouble in recent years. Since Sept. 2, 2011, the Yankees are 26-37 against the Rays. Tampa Bay has not lost a season series to the Yankees since 2009 and are 52-43 since.

The Rays are dealing with some major injuries, which is why it was all the more pivotal for the Yankees to take advantage of them and get their own record back to .500 at 6-6. The Yanks batted .268 over the three games with three doubles, three triples and three home runs. They averaged 6.3 runs per game and hit .333 (7-for-21) with runners in scoring position.

Conversely, the Yankees pitching staff limited Tampa Bay to one hit in 17 at-bats (.059) with runners in scoring positions. The Rays were a combined 0-for-14 in that department Saturday night and Sunday. The usually dangerous Evan Longoria was merely 1-for-10 (.100) in the series.

Masahiro Tanaka had a brilliant start Saturday night following a shaky one Friday night by Adam Warren. Michael Pineda was just okay Sunday, but the bullpen made up for lapses in the rotation. The Yankees’ relief corps was not scored upon in 10 1/3 innings during which it allowed only five hits and four walks with 15 strikeouts. 

After the 9-0 rout Saturday, the Yankees were in a tight game most of Sunday and emerged on top by a 5-3 score. They got a run right off the bat against Matt Andriese, but the Rays shot back with two runs in the bottom of the first inning on a home run by Steven Souza Jr. The Yankees regained the lead with a four-hit third inning and kept it despite Pineda’s inconsistency.

Dellin Betances worked out of a jam in the seventh, then pitched a scoreless eighth to hand the baton to Andrew Miller, who picked up his fourth save by striking out the side after having yielded a leadoff double.

At the top of the order Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner were on base a combined five times and scored two runs. Alex Rodriguez also scored two runs and hit a scorching double. Chase Headley knocked in two runs with a double and a single. Mark Teixeira also had two RBI with a sacrifice fly and a productive infield out. Garrett Jones, playing right field for ailing Carlos Beltan (cold), had three hits, including a triple, and Didi Gregorius contributed a pair of singles.

The result was the Yankees’ first sweep of a series of three or more games in St. Pete since Sept. 9-13, 2005 and their first overall since a three-gamer Aug. 22-24 last year against the White Sox.

Now it is off to Comerica Park, which has been another horror house for the Yankees. They are 6-10 there since May 3, 2011 and 28-32 overall since the park opened in 2000. The Yanks are 1-4-1 in their last six series in Detroit since 2010 and were 1-4 combined in postseason games there in 2011 and ’12.

The Yankees do catch a break in the coming series in that they will have not have to face former teammate Shane Green, who won again Sunday to push his record to 3-0. The righthander, who went to Detroit in the three-team trade that sent Gregorius to the Bronx from Arizona, has allowed only one earned run and two overall in 23 innings for an ERA of 0.39. Green has allowed 12 hits and five walks with 11 strikeouts.

It looks as if the Yankees are finally running into some luck.

Tanaka takes a page out of 2014 pre-injury

Any more questions about Masahiro Tanaka? I thought not.

For all the concern about the dip in velocity on his fastball, Tanaka looked Saturday night every bit the pitcher he was last season before he hurt his elbow. Developing a two-seam fastball to take some pressure off his arm from relying so often on four-seam gas has given Tanaka a different dimension. He claims the additional pitch will make him more economic.

The results from his first two starts were mixed, and he was over-analyzed to death by the ESPN Sunday Night Baseball crew last weekend. Saturday night, however, Tanaka was the pitcher fans of the Yankees have grown to love.

I have to admit that I shook my head when leadoff hitter David DeJesus led off the first inning with a single. Here we go again, I thought, Tanaka is getting more and more hittable. Shows you what I know. He did not allow another base runner until the sixth inning when Brandon Guyer doubled leading to end a stretch of 15 consecutive outs. Guyer never got beyond second base as Tanaka roared back with two strikeouts and a grounder and then added a 1-2-3 seventh.

In between those innings, the Yankees scored seven runs in a 38-minute seventh that turned a pitching duel into a blowout. It was a scoreless game through five as Tanaka battled Tampa Bay starter Jake Odorizzi, who had allowed only one run in his first two starts over 14 2/3 innings.

One batter who gives Odorizzi trouble is Yankees catcher Brian McCann, and he was at it again Saturday night. He singled in each of his first two at-bats and gave the Yankees a 2-0 lead with a two-run triple off the top of the right field fence in the sixth. It was only the fourth career three-base hit for McCann, who is 8-for-13 (.615) with one double, one triple and two home runs off Odorizzi.

After giving up a leadoff single to Chase Headley, Odorizzi came out of the game, and the Yankees went on the attack against the Tampa Bay bullpen. Lefthander C.J. Riefenhauser gave up hits to three left-handed batters — a double by Stephen Drew and singles by Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner — surrounding a sacrifice fly by Gregorio Petit. Gardner’s RBI hit ended Riefenhauser’s outing.

Righthander Grant Balfour fared no better. He gave up a run on a sacrifice fly by Mark Teixeira and four more on a grand slam by Chris Young, who started in right field because Carlos Beltran is fighting a severe cold.

The 9-0 victory was a terrific combination of an offensive breakout and a classic Tanaka performance in which he allowed two hits and no walks with eight strikeouts in seven innings and 85 pitches to lower his ERA from 7.00 to 3.94.

The triumph guaranteed the Yankees their first winning series of the season with a chance to complete a sweep Sunday afternoon and get to .500 behind Michael Pineda. That would be a strong springboard heading into a challenging, four-game series at Detroit.

Beltran joins 1,000 AL & NL hit club

Carlos Beltran was out of the lineup Saturday night and may not play Sunday, either, for the Yankees at Tropicana Field. The right fielder has a severe cold. 

Beltran started the winning rally Friday night with a leadoff single in the eighth inning. Brett Gardner pinch ran for Beltran and stole second base with two out. He scored on a single to center by Alex Rodriguez, who also homered twice and drove in four runs.

The knock by Beltran was his 1,000th career hit in the American League to go with 1,329 hits in his time in the National League. He is the only active player with 1,000 or more hits in both leagues and the eighth player overall to accomplish the feat. The list from the Elias Sport Bureau includes two former Yankees — Dave Winfield (1,976 AL; 1,134 NL) and Alfonso Soriano (1,018 AL; 1,077 NL). The others are Orlando Cabrera (1,020 AL; 1,035 NL), Vlad Guerrero (1,375 AL; 1,215 NL), Carlos Lee (1,033 AL; 1,240 NL), Fred McGriff (1,143 AL; 1,347 NL) and Frank Robinson (1,184 AL; 1,759 NL).

Rodriguez’s 61st career multi-home run game was his first since May 23, 2012 against the Royals at Yankee Stadium and the sixth of his career against the Rays, the first since May 17, 2011 at St. Petersburg, Fla. According to Baseball-Reference.com, Rodriguez (at age 39 years, 264 days), became the third-oldest Yankees hitter since 1914 with a multi-homer game. The only Yankees to do it at an older age were Raul Ibanez (twice: Sept. 22, 2012 against the Athletics at age 40 years, 112 days and May 8, 2012 against the Rays at age 39 years, 341days) and Enos Slaughter (July 19, 1959 against the White Sox at age 43 years, 83 days).

Earlier Saturday in a couple of transactions involving pitchers, lefthander Matt Tracy was claimed off waivers by the Marlins and righthander Joel De La Cruz was outrighted off the 40-man roster and onto the roster of Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.

 

Big night for A-Rod and Yanks bullpen

Brett Gardner, stuck on the bench for two games because of a bruised right wrist, returned to action Friday night at Tropicana Field as a pinch runner in the ninth inning and got a crucial stolen base with two out to set up the ending of a monster night at the plate for Alex Rodriguez.

A-Rod, who had homered twice earlier in the game, sent Gardner home from second base with a single to center field for his fourth RBI of the game that shot the Yankees to a 5-4 victory that also featured five shutout innings by their bullpen.

Yankees manager Joe Girardi is toying with the idea of adding a sixth starting pitcher to the rotation. With CC Sabathia, Michael Pineda and Masahiro Tanaka all coming back from injuries, the skipper is looking at ways to take some of the workload off his starters.

“I wouldn’t really call it a six-man rotation,” Girardi told reporters before the game. “I’d call it more of inserting a sixth man one time through, and my guess is you might see it. Weather could play a role, so you just have to wait and see, but it’s something that’s in the back of our minds. We’ve kind of prepared ourselves for it.”

Esmil Rogers, currently pitching in long relief, was identified by Girardi as one of the candidates for the sixth-starter role. The others would be Bryan Mitchell and Chase Whitley, both currently pitching as starters at Triple A Scranton/Wilkes Barre. They were all candidates for the fifth-starter spot that Adam Warren won in spring training.

Warren had an up-and-down start Friday night. The up part were the first three innings when he shut out the Rays on three hits, all singles. The down part was the fourth inning when Tampa Bay bounced back from a 2-0 deficit to take a 4-2 lead on a three-run home run by rookie Allen Dykstra that was followed by a solo shot by Logan Forsythe. It was the first major-league home run for Dykstra, who is no relation to former Mets and Phillies outfielder Lenny Dykstra.

Warren was rolling along until Evan Longoria reached first base on an infield single. Warren then walked Desmond Jennings and watched Dykstra slam a 2-0 fastball off the right field foul poll to surrender the lead. Warren’s ERA shot up from 1.69 to 4.82. He did not get stuck with a losing decision, however.

Rodriguez, who had given Warren a 1-0 lead with a 471-foot home run to left-center leading off the second inning against Rays starter Nathan Karns, got the Yanks even with a two-run blast in the sixth off reliever Ernesto Frieri. It marked A-Rod’s first multi-homer game since May 23, 2012 and the 61st of his career. He took over the club lead in homers with four and RBI with 11.

Rogers took over for Warren in the fifth and pitched 2 1/3 hitless innings of relief, a good audition for that sixth-starter job.

The Yankees also got a home run from Stephen Drew (No. 3) with two out in the fourth. It was the 100th career homer for Drew as he and brother J.D. Drew became the eighth pair of brothers to hit 100 or more homers apiece in the majors, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. The other pairs were the Alomars (Roberto and Sandy Jr.), the  Boones (Aaron and Bret), the Boyers (Ken and Clete), the DiMaggios (Joe and Vince), the Meusels (Bob and Irish), the Uptons (Justin and Melvin, Jr.) and the Youngs (Dmitri and Delmon). Aaron Boone, Clete Boyer, Joe DiMaggio and Bob Meusel played all or parts of their careers with the Yankees. 

Friday night’s Yankees pre-game show on YES included a feature on Richard Albero, 65, a retired Naval Officer who March 2 started a charity walk from the plate at George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa to Yankee Stadium, which he hopes to reach sometime around Memorial Day. Albero is roughly at the halfway point of his 1,200-mile walk, just north of Myrtle Beach, S.C. He is walking in memory of his nephew, who died in the World Trade Center during the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, and also to raise money and awareness for the Wounded Warrior Project. For more about Albero’s initiative, visit richardsyankeeswalk.org.

Bullpen springs a major leak

The most consistent positive for the Yankees in the early going has been the bullpen. Wednesday night, it leaked and cost the Yankees a chance to win their first series of the season.

The pen coughed up a one-run lead in the sixth inning as the Orioles put up a five-spot against three Yankees relievers to take control of the game and go on to a 7-5 victory, which dropped the Bombers’ record to 3-6.

Nathan Eovaldi had nine strikeouts in five innings, but he gave up eight hits and three walks, which along with the Ks shot his pitch count up to 101. The hard-throwing righthander needs to find a way to be more economical with his pitching.

The bullpen ranked third in the majors with a 1.73 ERA entering play and had limited opposing hitters to a .177 batting average. In addition, the pen was fairly well rested, but it did not take long for the tide to turn.

Jonathan Schoop led off the bottom of the sixth with a home run to center field off David Carpenter that tied the score. Alejandro De Aza followed with a single. Everth Cabrera sacrificed De Aza to second base. It seemed as if Orioles manager Buck Showalter was playing small-ball, but it would soon turn into a big-ball inning for Baltimore.

Yankees manager Joe Girardi ordered an intentional walk to Adam Jones, the Orioles’ hottest hitter (.406, 4 home runs, 11 RBI) from Carpenter and then brought in lefthander Justin Wilson to face left-hitting Travis Snider and Chris Davis. But Showalter countered with righty-swinging Delmon Young, who singled to left as a pinch hitter for Snider to score De Aza. The sac bunt proved crucial, as it turned out.

Davis, who struck out eight times in the series and could not catch up with Wilson’s fastball early in the at-bat, took a slider to the opposite field for a two-run double. Righthander Chris Martin tried to stem the tide but gave up a two-out, RBI single to Chad Joseph, who had three hits in the game and drove the Yanks crazy in the series going 7-for-11 (.636) with a triple and two RBI.

The Yankees came back Monday night against shaky Tommy Hunter and nearly did the same by scoring two runs off him in the eighth on doubles by Chris Young and Mark Teixeira and a wild pitch, but they would get no closer than that.

That Yankees bullpen ERA rose more than a run to 2.75 and the opponents’ batting average went up to .210. One good sign out of the bullpen came from Dellin Betances, who worked a scoreless, one-hit eighth inning with two strikeouts.

Struggling Beltran comes through in clutch

Yankees fans have been patient with Carlos Beltran in hopes of seeing the player that had put together a Hall of Fame-bound career with the Royals, Astros, Mets, Giants and Cardinals. He was eager to play for the Yankees when he joined the club last year but had his season reduced by a third because of an elbow injury that required surgery.

A healthy Beltran has gotten off to a sluggish rather than a slugger start for the Yankees in 2015, which is why it was so important to see him get a clutch hit Wednesday night in the finale of the Yankees-Orioles series at Camden Yards.

Beltran, who took a .152 batting average into his third-inning plate appearance against Baltimore righthander Bud Norris, thrust the Yankees into the lead with a two-out, two-run double. The ball was smoked by Beltran, who was batting left-handed, and came within inches of a home rub as the ball hit near the top of the wall in right-center field.

Yankees manager Joe Girardi has kept Beltran in the 3-hole in the lineup despite his slow start because of the confidence he has in a player with so strong a track record. Beltran got the opportunity when the Yankees rallied with two out behind a double by Jacoby Ellsbury and a walk to Chase Headley.

Alex Rodriguez expanded the Yankees’ lead to 3-1 with a long home run to left field with one out in the fourth. When A-Rod touched the plate, it was his 1,923rd run scored, which tied him with former teammate Derek Jeter for 10th place on the all-time list.

CC still winless but making progress

CC Sabathia, coming back from knee surgery, has shown positive signs in his first two outings, but both have been losses. The second came Tuesday night at Baltimore as the Orioles held off a late challenge by the Yankees for a 4-3 victory.

Sabathia fell into a 3-0 hole after four innings. Adam Jones, as hot a player as there is in the major leagues these days, took CC deep in the first inning for his fourth home run and made the score 2-0 with a sacrifice fly two innings later. A wild pitch by Sabathia helped set up the third Baltimore run on a two-out single by Caleb Joseph, the Orioles catcher who got his first career triple leading off the seventh inning and scored on a sacrifice fly by Everth Cabrera.

That made the score 4-1 and ended Sabathia’s night. He was ticked for four runs and seven hits but walked only one batter and struck out seven. Mobility remains a problem for the big guy with the tender knee. He made a throwing error trying to toss the ball from his glove to first base and also failed to cover the bag on another play that fortunately did not prove costly.

Manager Joe Girardi gave Sabathia a passing grade and is still optimistic that the lefthander can be a major positive force on the staff. CC just ran into a pitcher who was better Tuesday night.

Orioles righthander Miguel Gonzalez limited the Yankees to one run, four hits and one walk in seven innings and had a career-high strikeout total of 10. Gonzalez only hurt himself in the fifth inning with a wild pitch that put Jacoby Ellsbury into scoring position, and Mark Teixeira obliged with a two-out double.

The Yanks closed to 4-3 in the eighth against reliever Kevin Gausman with left fielder Alejandro De Aza making a huge error off a drive by Teixeira. Orioles manager Buck Showalter went to his closer, Zach Britton, for a four-out save after the De Aza error made it a one-run game with the potential tying run in scoring position. Britton did his job by getting four ground-ball outs to keep the Yankees from getting their record to .500.

The Yankees were without Brett Gardner, whose left wrist is still smarting after being hit by a pitch Monday night. Chris Young played left field and had a double in four at-bats. Girardi indicated that Gardner likely won’t start again until Friday at St. Petersburg, Fla.

60th anniversary of “Elliie” integrating Yankees

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There is a very good article in the April edition of Yankees Magazine by Bergen Record baseball columnist Bob Klapisch, “Honoring Ellie,” that details the life and career of the late Elston Howard, the first African-American player in franchise history.

Tuesday marked the 60th anniversary of Howard’s first game with the Yankees April 14, 1955, an 8-4 Red Sox victory at Fenway Park. Howard entered the game as a defensive replacement for Irv Noren in left field in the sixth inning. Two innings later, Howard got his first major-league hit and RBI in his first time up in the big leagues with a single that scored Mickey Mantle from second base.

Howard was used in the outfield and first base as well as serving as Yogi Berra’s primary backup catcher in the 1950s until he took over as the No. 1 catcher in 1960 with Yogi moving into a platoon in left field with Hector Lopez and catching on occasion.

Howard won two Gold Gloves for his defensive work behind the plate and was a major contributor to nine American League pennan-winning teams in his first 10 seasons with the club. The New York Chapter of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America honored him with its Babe Ruth Award as the outstanding player of the 1958 World Series. Five years later, Howard was again tabbed by the BBWAA as the AL Most Valuable Player for a 1963 season in which he batted .287 with 28 home runs and 85 RBI.

Ellie played in 11 All-Star Games and in 10 World Series overall (including 1967 after being traded to the Red Sox). A clubhouse leader as a player from 1955-67 and as a Yankees coach from 1969-79, Howard’s dignified manner and competitive spirit set a powerful example.

A little-known fact about Ellie is that he was credited with having developed the “doughnut,” the weighted circular device players use on their bats in the on-deck circle. Howard died in 1980 at the age of 51.

Stephen Drew’s pinch-hit, go-ahead grand slam in the seventh inning Monday night at Baltimore marked the first pinch-hit grand slam for the Yankees since Jorge Posada June 6, 2001, also against the Orioles and Mike Trombley. According to the Elias Bureau, since 1980, the only other Yankees players to hit a pinch-hit, go-ahead grand slam are Posada and Glenallen Hill (2000). It was Drew’s third career grand slam, his first for the Yankees and first overall since May 15, 2013 for the Red Sox at St. Petersburg, Fla. It was Drew’s second career pinch-hit home run. The other was Sept. 30, 2006 for the Diamondbacks off the Padres’ Cla Meredith.

The Yankees are back to being the Bronx Bombers. With 12 home runs in seven games this season, the Yanks are tied with Baltimore for the major league lead. They did not reach a dozen homers in 2014 until their 12th game. . .Michael Pineda struck out nine batters without issuing a walk Monday night at Camden Yards. CC Sabathia, Tuesday night’s scheduled starter, had eight strikeouts and no walks last Thursday against the Blue Jays. Only two other pitchers in the majors have recorded games with no walks and at least eight strikeouts: the Dodgers’ Brandon McCarthy and the Tigers’ Anibal Sanchez.

Yanksees get a jump start in road opener

A nice combination of speed and power brought the Yankees back from a 4-2 deficit Monday night in the seventh inning at Camden Yards on the way to an impressive 6-5 victory.

Orioles lefthander Wei-Yin Chen limited the Yankees to two runs over six innings on solo home runs by Chris Young and Mark Teixeira and was thrust into the lead when Adam Jones connected for a two-run homer off Michael Pineda in the bottom of the sixth that unlocked a 2-2 score.

Tommy Hunter, Baltimore’s hard-throwing righthander, came on in the seventh, and the Yankees were ready for him. Young started things off with a single, and John Ryan Murphy worked a walk on a full count.

Curiously, Orioles manager Buck Showalter had lefthander Brian Matusz warming in the bullpen but did not bring him on to face left-handed Garrett Jones, pinch hitting for Gregorio Petit. After Jones flied to left for the second out, Matusz remained in the pen as lefty-swinging Jacoby Ellsbury came up against Hunter.

Here was the speed part of the rally. Ellsbury hit a slow roller to second base and beat the play at first base for a single that filled the bags. Brett Gardner was due up but was held back because of a swollen right wrist.

Yankees manager Joe Girardi went with Stephen Drew as the pinch hitter and looked like a genius when Drew worked the count to 3-1 and then drove a fastball over the center field wall for a grand slam and a 6-4 Yankees advantage. That was the power part.

Michael Pineda put the lead in jeopardy when he gave up two singles in the bottom of the seventh. Dellin Betances relieved Betances with one out and gave up another single that loaded the bases. A run scored on a fielder’s choice that the Yanks failed to convert into a double play, but a fine stop at first base by Teixeira protected the lead.

Betances walked Steve Pearce, which re-loaded the bags for the Orioles, but rebounded to fit the golden sombrero on Chris Davis, who suffered his fourth strikeout of the game, this one on a nasty slider.

Pineda was more hittable than Yankees fans are accustomed to seeing. He allowed nine hits in 6 1/3 innings but did not walk a batter and struck out nine.

Nor was Betances what Yankees fans have gotten used to seeing. He gave up two hits and a couple of walks in his inning of work with only 10 of his 24 pitches going for strikes. Betances was aided in the eighth when catcher John Ryan Murphy threw out Adam Jones, who had led off with a single, trying to steal second base.

After Betances walked Travis Snider, Girardi also went against convention and brought in lefthander Andrew Miller to face two right-handed hitters, Manny Machado and Jonathan Scoop. Both struck out. Miller withstood hitting a batter with two out in the ninth to notch his second save and give the Yankees their first winning streak of the year.

It was a good night for Girardi moves.

Yanks grab early lead but lose it early, too

The Yankees are beginning to like this business of taking the lead. They were in front in only one of their first 55 innings this season but turned things around Sunday night against the Red Sox at Yankee Stadium with a seven-run first inning.

It was not nearly as overwhelming Monday night at Baltimore in the opener of a three-game series at Camden Yards, but once again the Yankees took the early lead. This time, it was merely one run on a solo home run by Chris Young with two out in the second inning. It was the second homer of the season for Young, who clocked a three-run shot Saturday at the Stadium.

The early run was welcomed by Yankees starter Michael Pineda, who has not had much run support over the years. The Yankees were shut out 10 times last year, and three of those games were started by Pineda. Since Aug. 27, 2011, Pineda has a 2.79 run support average, which is the third lowest in the major leagues during that span (minimum 10 starts).

Another positive sign early was catcher John Ryan Murphy throwing out Alejandro De Aza attempting to steal second. Murphy, who started for resting regular catcher Brian McCann, has had a rough time of it back of the plate with a couple of passed balls and a throwing error.

Yet as quickly as the Yankees pulled in front, Pineda gave up the lead in the bottom of the second. Maybe it’s because he is not used to pitching with it. Adam Jones led off with an infield single and scored one out later on a double by Manny Machado.

Alex Rodriguez, making his first start of the season at his old position of third base, displayed weakened lateral movement in being unable to knock down Machado’s hot grounder inside the bag.

Jonathan Schoop followed with a hard liner off the left field wall for another double that put the Orioles up, 2-1. Schoop did not get credit for the double right away. He was originally called out at second base, but the call was reversed following a challenge by Baltimore manager Buck Showalter. Video replays revealed that second baseman Gregorio Petit’s tag was on Schoop’s chest after his left hand was on the bag.

Pineda recovered to strike out the next two hitters and had to hope the Yankees could come from behind as effectively as they had gone in front.

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