Cano gets satisfaction over Stadium boo birds

Earlier this week, Robinson Cano was quoted in the Seattle Times as saying he likes it when he gets booed at Yankee Stadium. He must have loved the attention he received Friday night in the Mariners’ 7-1 victory. Cano figured in two of Seattle’s rallies and drew the usual boos he has heard at the Stadium since he left the Yankees after the 2013 season for 240 million reasons supplied by the star-starved Mariners.

Yankees fans’ attitude is somewhat curious considering Cano was a crowd favorite during his nine seasons in the Bronx. But once he rejected an offer from the Yankees of a reported $170 million to accept Seattle’s even more generous bid the Stadium faithful did a complete turnabout.

Cano’s big night came at an appropriate time. Friday was Jackie Robinson Day throughout baseball as all players wore uniform No. 42 that has been retired in perpetuity since 1997 in honor of the player who broke the color barrier 69 years ago. Cano was named after Robinson by his father, a former player in the Dominican Republic.

Cano singled to center field in the fourth inning to score Seth Smith, who had doubled with one out off Yanks starter Luis Severino. That wiped out the 1-0 lead the Yankees acquired on Brett Gardner’s first home run of the season, in the first inning off Seattle starter Nathan Karns. The Mariners went ahead in the fifth on a two-run home run by Chris Iannetta, the Seattle catcher who had an even bigger night than Cano with three hits and three RBI. 

In the sixth, Cano followed a leadoff walk by Smith with a single to right field and eventually scored on a single by Adam Lind, Severino’s last batter. The righthander had a tough night (four earned runs, eight hits in 5 2/3 innings) against an offense that entered Friday night’s game with a team batting average of .208. The Mariners had an absolute feast with 12 hits in the game.

It was the Yankees’ offensive unit that sputtered Friday night.  The Yanks stranded 12 base runners and were hitless in 12 at-bats with runners in scoring position, this coming after going 3-for-22 in similar situations in the three-game series at Toronto. Gardner’s home run turned out to be their lone bright spot. And it will not get any easier Saturday with Felix Hernandez starting for the Mariners against CC Sabathia.

Commissioner’s message on Jackie Robinson Day

Friday marked the 69th anniversary of baseball’s integration when Jackie Robinson broke into the majors with the Brooklyn Dodgers April 15, 1947. Here is a message to baserball fans from commissioner Rob Manfrd, who was at Yankee Stadium for the game against the Mariners Friday night.

Dear Fans:

April 15th is one of the most important days in the baseball calendar, Jackie Robinson Day. It is the day on which we honor a proud moment not only in baseball history, but in American history. More importantly, it is the day on which we honor the Great American who made that history, Jackie Robinson.

My observance of Jackie Robinson Day has been particularly meaningful this year. On Monday and Tuesday night, my wife and I spent four fantastic hours watching the biography of Jackie Robinson by Ken Burns, Sarah Burns and David McMahon. The documentary presents a flattering and nuanced picture of a truly brave individual.
 
Mr. Burns’ documentary contains many great lessons for all of us, and I was so moved by the film that I feel compelled to share with you just a couple of observations. First, while Jackie was a true hero, it is hard to watch this film without realizing that Rachel Robinson is an American treasure, a woman of substance and class who was a partner in every one of her husband’s amazing achievements. We should cherish her.

Second, it is a difficult task to effectuate change. Jackie Robinson knew from a very early age that change was needed in America. Throughout his life, he worked hard to find the right strategy to effectuate that change. At certain points, passivity was required and at others, Jackie felt the need to be more aggressive. Sometimes it was necessary to challenge the system, while at other times working within the system was necessary. We should respect the intentions of those who desire change and be slow to criticize the strategies selected to produce that change.

Third, sports are powerful. But, their true power is only realized when athletes reach beyond sports into a larger cause like the Civil Rights Movement. All of us at MLB understand that work remains to be done on the topics of diversity and inclusion on the field and in the front offices. Moving forward, we will continue to be inspired by Jackie Robinson’s story and instructed by his brilliance in selecting strategies to drive change.

Sincerely,

Robert D. Manfred, Jr.
Commissioner, Major League Baseball

Blue Jays rediscover long ball to upend Yankees

Yankees pitchers did an excellent job in the first two games of the series at Toronto this week in keeping the powerful Blue Jays hitters in the yard. Well, two out of three ain’t bad. And the rubber game Thursday night was plenty bad for the Yanks.

In the longest outing by a Yankees starter this year (6 2/3 innings), Nathan Eovaldi was rolling along for five innings before the Blue Jays finally found a way to clear the fence. A hanging splitter on a 1-0 count was crushed by Josh Donaldson, last year’s American League Most Valuable Player, for a 440-foot bomb into the center field restaurant seats at Rogers Centre that turned a 2-0 Yankees lead into a 3-2 deficit.

It only got worse an inning later when Troy Tulowitzki slammed a first-pitch slider to left for a solo homer. Eovaldi had worked out of trouble in the fourth inning by getting Tulowitzki on an infield pop and striking out Michael Saunders to strand runners on second and third, but the righthander’s luck ran out in the fifth. With two out, Kevin Pillar doubled over third base, sending Russell Martin, who had walked, to third base. First base was open, but Donaldson has the luxury of having fellow slugger Jose Bautista batting behind him. In a case of pick your poison, Donaldson supplied the lethal dose this time.

Now working with a lead, Blue Jays righthander Marcus Stroman took control as he retired the last 11 batters he faced. He kept the ball down in the zone so well that only four of the 24 outs Stroman recorded were on balls in the air. Roberto Osuna finished up with a 1-2-3 ninth for his fourth save in making it 14 straight outs by the Yankees from the fifth inning to the end of the game.

The Yankees’ offense was pretty anemic. They were retired in order in six of the nine innings and managed only three hits, all singles. Their two-run rally in the fourth was aided by Stroman, who struck slumping Alex Rodriguez with a pitch and yielded singles to Mark Teixeira and Brian McCann that loaded the bases with one out. Carlos Beltran avoided being doubled up in beating a play at first base to drive in one run. Stroman wild-pitched in the second one. Considering that the Yankees were 3-for-22 (.136) with runners in scoring position in the series, they were lucky to come away with at least one victory.

Stroman improved his career record against the Yankees to 5-1 with a 2.39 ERA. Eovaldi had a seven-game road winning streak dating to last season stopped. So nearing the end of the second week of the season, the Yankees at 4-4 and the Blue Jays at 5-5 are playing .500 ball, but for now just not against each other. 

Nova still adapting to reliever’s role

The invincibility of the Yankees’ bullpen took a hit Wednesday night due mainly because of a pitcher not used to working in relief. In his previous appearance a week ago at Yankee Stadium, Ivan Nova earned his first career save with four shutout innings against the Astros.

So Yankees manager Joe Girardi had every reason to believe that they could remain within a run’s reach of the Blue Jays when he brought in Nova to hold them down in the eighth inning after Mark Teixeira’s third home run of the season had cut Toronto’s lead to 3-2. Nova, who was beaten out in the spring for a spot in the rotation by CC Sabathia, had a miserable time of it in yielding four runs as the Jays pulled away for a 7-2 victory.

“It’s different for him.” Girardi said about Nova’s new role, “but we need him to get outs.”

Toronto scored a run before Nova got an out that inning on doubles by Josh Donaldson and Jose Bautista. The two-base hit was big for the Jays, who have not homered in either game of the series but lashed out six doubles Wednesday night, including two by 9-hole hitter Ryan Goins, who had three hits and two RBI. After getting Edwin Encarnacion out on a ground ball, Nova gave up an RBI single to Troy Tulowitzki and Michael Saunders’ second double of the game on a late swing against the shift.

Russell Martin knocked in a run with a sacrifice fly for the second out, but Nova hit Justin Smoak in the foot with a pitch and gave up a run-scoring single to Goins. The four runs allowed by Nova raised his ERA from 0.00 to 7.20 and that of the overall bullpen from a league-best 0.84 to 2.31.

Michael Pineda got through six innings but threw 105 innings and was uncharacteristically wild with three walks. Goins’ first double with two out in the second put Toronto ahead. After tying the score in the fifth against J.A. Happ on a double by Ronald Torreys, a single by Austin Romine and an infield out, an errant throw by Torreys, who played shortstop with Didi Gregorius getting a night off, opened the door for two Toronto runs. Smoak scored on the wild throw, and Goins came home as Donaldson grounded into a double play.

Kirby Yates pitched a shutout seventh with two strikeouts to extend the bullpen’s scoreless string to 7 1/3 innings before Nova came unglued in the eighth.

Bullpen’s four hitless innings bail out Tanaka

The first meeting between the top offenses in the American League last year turned out to be a pitcher’s game. The Blue Jaus, who overcame the Yankees to win the AL East title in 2015, could not overcome the Yanks’ bullpen Tuesday night.

After Masahiro Tanaka struggled through five innings, four Yankees relievers were lights out in a 3-2 victory at Rogers Centre. Tanaka allowed only two runs and three hits, but four walks along with six strikeouts shot up his pitch count as once again a Yankees starter did not get past the sixth inning. The bullpen is doing a yeoman’s job, but it can’t pitch four innings per game without wearing down.

Johnny Barbato got his first major league victory. After pitching a shutout sixth inning, Barbato benefit from the Yankees unlocking a 2-2 score in the seventh on a bloop single by Jacoby Ellsbury, who atoned for his wayward tracking of a drive by Jose Bautista in the third that became a two-run double.

Chasen Shreve got the first two outs of the seventh before walking Josh Donaldson, who stole second base against Dellin Betances, but the 6-for-8 righthander got the last laugh with a strikeout of Bautista on a full-count breaking ball. Betances got two more strikeouts in a 1-2-3 eighth before turning matters over to Andrew Miller, who added a perfect ninth with two more punchouts.

The quartet of Yankees relievers combined for four hitless innings with five strikeouts against the league’s most dangerous lineup. As for the offense, it used some small ball to manufacture the deciding run. After a leadoff single by Chase Headley in the seventh off Brett Cecil and a walk to Starlin Castro, Didi Gregorius’ perfect sacrifice bunt set it up for Ellsbury, who dunked a single into left field.

Also in the middle of the action much of the night was Brian McCann. The catcher did his usual solid job behind the plate and took a hard foul ball off his left foot in the fifth inning that left him hobbling the rest of the night. Fortunately, Mac did not have to run hard in his at-bat in the sixth because he got all of a 3-2 fastball all from Alex Sanchez for a home run to right field that tied the score. McCann had scored the Yankees’ first run in the second inning. He was on second base when Sanchez treated him like Rickey Henderson by trying to pick him off only to throw the ball into center field. Mac scored from third on an infield out by Castro, who picked up his ninth RBI in his sixth game. McCann was on base again in the eighth with a single and limped to third base on one of Headley’s two hits. Mac finally came out of the game in the bottom of the ninth as Austin Romine took over back of the plate.

Blood had to be drained from McCann’s foot. He was to get x-rays after the game. The Yankees cannot afford to lose him for any length of time.

Rest benefits three Yanks who support CC

That day of rest Friday paid off for Alex Rodriguez, Brian McCann and Carlos Beltran Saturday. The trio combined for five hits in 12 at-bats (.417), including two home runs, in the Yankees’ 8-4 victory over a Detroit team that had shut them out on three hits Friday. Six of the Yankees’ runs were scored by one of three aging veterans who were on the bench the day before.

Those booming bats proved comforting to CC Sabathia, who was perfect through three innings and had a 6-0 lead by the fourth. Sabathia was the first Yankees starting pitcher to take the ball into the seventh inning this year. Manager Joe Girardi decided not to push the big guy any further after the lefthander gave up a leadoff single in the seventh on his 90th pitch.

No longer the overpowering pitcher he was back when he was winning the American League Cy Young Award, Sabathia relied on cut fastballs and sliders to get through the Tigers’ deep lineup with a bevy of right-handed pop. CC did walk four batters after the Yankees had not issued a free pass the previous two games. He had a tough fourth inning when Detroit used three walks and two singles to score two runs. The Tigers got the first two batters on base in the fifth, but Sabathia defused the rally as he initiated a double play on a comebacker by Justin Upton and then retired Miguel Cabrera on another ground ball.

Sabathia was encouraged toward the end of last season when he was 2-1 with a 2.17 ERA in his final five starts pitching with a new brace on his troublesome right knee. However, his spring training was nothing tonight home about (1-3, 5.51 ERA) as he barely beat out Ivan Nova for the fifth starter’s spot. Sabathia’s effort Saturday was a positive sign that he can still batters out despite a noted drop in velocity.

Rodriguez gave CC a lead before he took the mound with an impressive home run to center field with two out in the first inning off Mike Pelfrey, the off-season, free-agent acquisition who pitched poorly in his first outing for the Tigers (six earned runs and eight hits in 3 2/3 innings). It was career homer No.688 for Rodriguez, who had homered in his first at-bat in the spring but did not go deep again after that until Saturday.

McCann continued his career success against Pelfrey with a leadoff single in the second and came around to score on a two-out single by Didi Gregorius. McCann walked in the fourth and was again driven home by Gregorius, this time on a sacrifice fly. In 43 career at-bats against Pelfrey, McCann has batted .465 with eight doubles, two home runs and seven walks. Much of their history dates to their years in the National League East when McCann was with the Braves and Pelfrey the Mets.

A bases-loaded triple later in the fourth by Jacoby Ellsbury spelled the end for Pelfrey. McCann got his second single of the game with one down in the fifth and scored on Beltran’s second home run of the season, a jolting blow to right-center off reliever Buck Farmer.

It was certainly a much stronger lineup the  Tigers faced Saturday than Friday. Starlin Castro bounced back from a 0-for-4 game Friday with two hits Saturday, including career No. 1,000 on a single in the seventh. Ronald Torreys got a start at third base and had three singles to raise his batting average to .800.

Yes, it is April.

Yankees mere kittens against Tigers

Might have things gone differently for the Yankees Friday if Alex Rodriguez, Brian McCann and Carlos Beltran had been in the lineup instead of on the bench in Detroit? Perhaps, but probably not. Jordan Zimmermann, in his first start for the Tigers since departing the Nationals and signed as a free agent, was strong enough Friday to shut down any lineup.

Get used to it, Yankees fans. With all the advanced age on the team roster, there are going to be days like Friday when manager Joe Girardi has to give some of his older players a blow. True, it was only the fourth game of the season, but Monday’s rainout forced the Yanks to play three games in a row against the Astros, which certainly played into Girardi’s decision.

There was no way McCann was going behind the plate for a fourth straight day. Giving Rodriguez a day off against a tough righthander allowed Mark Teixeira to be the designated hitter and take a break from first base. Beltran simply does not have the leg to play right field on a daily basis.

So Girardi went with a lineup that featured role players filling in for regulars behind the plate (Austin Romine), first base (Dustin Ackley) and right field (Aaron Hicks). The trio combined to go hitless with one walk (Romine) in nine plate appearances, but the rest of the batting order did not do much damage, either, as the Yankees were shutout victims just two days after they scored 16 runs in one game.

The run the Tigers scored in the first inning off Luis Severino on a single by Miguel Cabrera would be all they would need behind Zimmerman, who allowed two hits and three walks over seven innings, and two relievers, including former Yankees lefthander Justin Wilson. Detroit pitchers even cooled off red-hot Starlin Castro (0-for-4) and Didi Gregorius (0-for-3).

Detroit bunched four singles off Severino in the two-run fourth. The righthander ended up allowing 10 hits in five-plus innings although Ian Kinsler’s leadoff double in the first was the only hit for extra bases. The second of the Tigers’ 13 hits that went for extra bases was Cabrera’s first home run of the season, off Luis Cessa in the seventh.

The Yankees had only one runner get as far as second base.That was Teixeira in the seventh after a walk on a wild pitch by Zimmermann.

For the second straight game, Yankees pitchers did not walk a batter, but there was no paucity of base runners for the Tigers in their home opener. Johnny Barabato had another strong outing with two strikeouts in the seventh. The righthander has struck out five of the nine batters he has faced this season.

CC Sabathia is scheduled to start Saturday afternoon at Comerica Park to complete the rotation’s first turn. It has been an overall shabby start for the starters, who are a combined 1-2 with a 6.97 ERA. The best thing about the rotation has been its strikeout-to-walk ratio with 21 Ks and only one walk, but starters have allowed 28 hits, including six home runs, in 20 2/3 innings. That must improve.

Power bats sparking Yanks in early going

The long ball is back for the Yankees at Yankee Stadium, which they will continue to need if their starting pitchers cannot pick up the pace. One game after Michael Pineda lucked out behind a 16-run, 17-hit attack, Nathan Eovaldi struggled through five innings only to be saved by his teammates’ wiping away 3-0 and 5-2 deficits in an 8-5 victory over the Astros Thursday in the rubber game of the season-opening series.

Mark Teixeira’s second three-run home run in two days unlocked a 5-5 score in the seventh inning and was a great sign from a player who has a history of grim Aprils and is coming off a leg injury that ruined the final portion of his — and the Yanks’ — 2015 season. Tex is batting .364 with two homers and seven RBI after a somewhat lackluster spring training during which he expressed concern about his poor timing at the plate. He has come alive at the right time. His 193rd home run with the Yankees pushed him past Tino Martinez into 17th place on the club’s all-time list.

There were plenty of other good signs from the Yankees in a game that began with a 12-minute rain delay but stayed dry the rest of the way. Starlin Castro continued his torrid hitting with two more knocks, including his second home run. Brian McCann got on the board with this first homer of the season and is batting .455 with three RBI. Mac’s 50th homer since joining the Yankees was his 36th at the Stadium. The Yankees belted seven home runs in the series, including three in each of the past two games.

Alex Rodriguez still has not homered since his first at-bat of the exhibition season, but he broke out of a 0-for-9 season start with a single in the fifth that scored the tying run. A-Rod also singled in the seventh and scored on Tex’s homer, an opposite-field blow off Ken Giles thaty cleared the left-field wall. Jacoby Ellsbury entered the game batting .111 and contributed two doubles and an RBI.

For the second straight game, the Yankees got four scoreless innings from their bullpen. Wednesday night all four frames were handled by Ivan Nova. Thursday, it was an ensemble effort with a shutout inning apiece from Kirby Yates, Chasen Shreve, Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller, who earned his first save. Miller allowed two hits but struck out the side in showing no ill effects from a chip fracture in his right (non-pitching) wrist. Betances bounced back from the Opening Day loss with a 1-2-3, two-strikeout eighth.

Eovaldi’s five-inning start was a mixed bag. He did not walk anybody, which was good. He had seven strikeouts, which was good. But the righthander was touched for two home runs, which was not good, that came in successive at-bats in the second inning by Tyler White and Preston Tucker. White made it a four-RBI game when he singled in two more runs in the fourth as Houston regained its three-run lead. The power bats of McCann and Castro came to Eovaldi’s rescue, and he got off the hook when Rodriguez knotted the score in the fifth. It was A-Rod’s 1,066th RBI with the Yankees as he passed Jorge Posada for 11th place on the franchise’s career list.

Key contributions from keystone duo

It may be a very long time before the Yankees see a keystone combination with the combined offensive productivity of Derek Jeter and Robinson Cano of the not so long ago. Two games into the 2016 season, however, there has been much to enjoy about the combined efforts of this year’s shortstop-second base combo of Didi Gregorius and Starlin Castro.

The pair have done more damage at the bottom of the lineup than those at the top for the Yankees. Castro, who had a two-run double in Tuesday’s Opening Day loss, probably had the most important hit Wednesday night as the Yankees came off the canvas for a 16-6 romp of the Astros. After Michael Pineda nearly gave up all of a 6-1 lead as Houston closed to 6-5 in the top of the second, Castro crushed a three-run home run in the bottom of the inning to put the Yankees back in command.

It was a four-hit, five-RBI night for Castro, who was acquired from the Cubs in an offseason trade for pitcher Adam Warren. After watching Stephen Drew struggle to hit .200 last year, it has been a treat so far to see a Yankees second baseman handle the bat so well. In addition to his three-run bomb, Castro knocked in two more runs with singles in the six-run first inning and the three-run seventh. In only his second season at second base after being moved there from shortstop last year,  Castro has looked comfortable in the field as well.

Gregorius, who settled in nicely as Jeter’s successor in 2015 after a shaky start, has broken out of the gate much better this year. He hit an impressive home run Tuesday and followed that with three singles Wednesday night. From the 8-9 holes, Castro and Gregorius are batting a combined .563 with two doubles, two home runs and eight RBI in 16 at-bats. Contrast that with the 1-2-3 hitters for the Yankees, who have combined for one hit in 22 at-bats (.045). 

With Castro’s double and Gregorius’ home run Tuesday, it  marked the first time since at least 1913 that the Yankees’ starting middle infield pairing both had extra-base hits and RBIs on Opening Day. The YES Network reported that Castro and Gregorius, both 26, are the Yankees’ youngest regular starting middle infield pairing since 1977 with second baseman Willie Randolph, 22, and shortstop Bucky Dent, 25, who played together for three-plus seasons.

Gregorius became the third Yankees shortstop to homer on Opening Day. Jeter did it three times, all of which came on the road — April 2, 1996 at Cleveland, April 5, 1999 at Oakland and April 1, 2002 at Baltimore. Dent went deep April 9, 1981 at Yankee Stadium against Texas.

It would be too much to ask Castro and Gregorius to duplicate some of the seasons Jeter and Cano had together, but so far so good.

 

Yanks defy conditions with offensive explosion

With the temperature hovering around 40 degrees and the wind swirling Wednesday night at Yankee Stadium, the last thing I expected was an offensive outburst by either team. Yet before the third inning was complete, the Yankees and the Astros had combined to score 17 runs.

Go figure.

The reason, of course, was shaky pitching. After being given a 1-0 lead on Carlos Correa’s first-inning home run off Michael Pineda, Astros starter Collin McHugh could not get through the bottom of the inning. Seven of the eight batters he faced reached base, and all but one scored.  The Yankees loaded the bases on catcher’s interference and two walks with a single by Mark Teixeira and a double by Brian McCann sending those runners home.

Even on the one out McHugh recorded, a hard grounder to first base by Carlos Beltran, a run scored. An RBI single by Chase Headley chased McHugh, whose ERA is a hefty 135.00. Starlin Castro, who has already made a favorable impression on Yankees fans, greeted reliever Michael Feliz with a single for the sixth run of an inning in which 12 batters came to the plate and endured for 36 minutes.

If Pineda thought he could coast with a five-run lead, the Astros had other ideas. With two out, Pineda hit Jose Altuve with a pitch that loaded the bases for George Springer, who abruptly made it a one-run game with the first grand slam of his career.

Castro, who drove in two of the Yankees’ three runs in Tuesday’s Opening Day loss, provided Pineda breathing room by belting a three-run home run off Feliz with two out in the bottom of the seacond. Teixeira followed suit in the third as the Yankees stretched their lead to seven runs. 

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