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.

Ellsbury on Yanks’ side of the rivalry

Thursday night marked Jacoby Ellsbury’s first game for the Yankees against his former Red Sox teammates. Ellsbury, who started in center field and batted third, became the latest player to jump to the other side of the American League’s longest rivalry, joining the likes of Babe Ruth, Red Ruffing, Sparky Lyle, Mike Torrez, Wade Boggs, Roger Clemens and Johnny Damon.

“I always thought it was a decent possibility,” Ellsbury said of changing uniforms. “I think of the Yankees as a top-flight organization, world class. I think of the championships, the history, the great players who play here and when I signed over here those were reasons why I did it. Derek [Jeter] called me and said, ‘You are going to enjoy it here, it is a first-class organization. It is a special place to play.’ From then on, I had the highest expectations and they’ve met them and exceeded them. I spent nine years in the [Boston] organization, seven years in the big leagues, roughly a third of my life. I left it all on the field for the Red Sox.”

Grady Sizemore was signed by the Red Sox to take Ellsbury’s place in center field, but he found himself in left field Thursday night as Jackie Bradley Jr. was inserted in center. At Fenway Park, Sizemore has been in center field and Bradley in right field. Red Sox manager John Farrell said he preferred a different alignment at Yankee Stadium because of the expanse in left-center field as opposed to that in right-center at Fenway.

Tanaka off to record start with strikeouts

Masahiro Tanaka, the Yankees’ latest Japanese import, has gotten off to something of an historic start in the United States. The righthander, who has a 1-0 record and 3.21 ERA through his first two starts, tied one club record and set another with his strikeout totals from those games.

The Elias Sports Bureau reports that with eight strikeouts April 4 at Toronto and 10 K’s Wednesday night at Yankee Stadium against the Orioles Tanaka became the second Yankees pitcher to strike out at least eight batters in each of his first two major league starts. The other was Allen Russell in 1915 when the Yankees were based at the Polo Grounds.

In addition, Tanaka’s combined 18 strikeouts are the most for any pitcher in his first two Yankees starts. The previous record was 17 set in April 1955 by Bob Turley and matched by Dennis Rasmussen in May 1984 and Charles Hudson in April 1987.

Elias also notes that outfielder-designated hitter Alfonso Soriano has 18 home runs and 52 RBI in 66 games since he rejoined the Yankees July 26 last year. Those are the most homers in the majors over that stretch and tied with the Cardinals’ Matt Holliday for the second highest RBI total behind only the 53 of the Diamondbacks’ Mark Trumbo.

Rookie infielder Yangervis Solarte continues to be impressive in the early going. He has hit safely in his first seven career starts, becoming the first Yankees player to do so since Hideki Matsui hit safely in his first seven career starts from March 31 through April 4, 2003. The last Yankees hitter with a longer such streak was Mike Heath, who hit safely in his first 13 starts from June 28 to July 23, 1978. Solarte is tied for the major-league lead (with the Rays’ Desmond Jennings) with six doubles and is the first player since 1900 with at least six doubles through his first seven career games. Solarte ranks third in the American League in on-base percentage (.484) and fifth in batting (.429). He leads the Yankees in total bases (18), doubles (6), extra-base hits (6), RBI (7), batting average and OBP and is tied for the team lead in hits with Jacoby Ellsbury (12 apiece).

Tanaka impressive in tough Yanks loss

Masahiro Tanaka’s first appearance before the home crowd at Yankee Stadium was a measured success. It could have been better, of course, if he had come away with a winning decision or the Yankees had won the game. Nevertheless, Tanaka pitched well enough to win and kept his team in the game, which is the primary responsibility of a starting pitcher.

With a press box jammed with Japanese media, Tanaka gave his countrymen and women plenty to write home about. A Stadium crowd of 39,412 gave him a standing ovation when he walked to the dugout at the end of the seventh inning as the fans sensed his night was over after having thrown 101 pitches, many of them quality.

There was quite a bit and oooing and ahhing in the stands back in the second inning when Tanaka gave up a thunderous, three-run home run to left field to Orioles third baseman Jonathan Schoop. Tanaka settled in nicely after that and allowed only three singles and a walk through the seventh. He retired the last seven batters he faced and finished with 10 strikeouts.

“He battled after a tough start and made good pitches when he needed them,” manager Joe Girardi said. “His strongest inning make have been his last one.”

That was the seventh when Tanaka struck out two batters and got the other on a come-backer to the mound.

Tanaka also had some fine glovework behind him, notably in the sixth inning when Alfonso Soriano made a belly-flop catch in the dirt cutout near the left-field line and Brian Roberts a deft pickup of a scorching, one-hopper on back-to-back plays.

The Yankees slowly pulled back into the game with solo home runs in the second by Carlos Beltran and Kelly Johnson and a game-tying run in the fourth on a double by Beltran and two infield outs. The Yanks had a good chance to take the lead in the eighth when Brett Gardner led off with a double to right and was bunted to third base by Derek Jeter, but Jacoby Ellsbury popped out and after an intentional walk to Beltran Brian McCann flied out to deep center.

The game fell apart for the Yanks in the ninth when the Orioles jumped on Shawn Kelley for two runs and four hits. The Yankees got a run back in the ninth on a sacrifice fly by Roberts, but Yangervis Solarte grounded into a game-ending double play.

The loss dropped the Yankees’ record under .500 at 4-5, equal to Baltimore’s, with the Red Sox heading to New York for a four-game series beginning Thursday night.

Yankees are finding their home run strokes

Yankees hitters are starting to clear the fences. They did not hit a home run in their first five games and had only one through the first seven games. You could hardly have called them the Bronx Bombers. Yet getting back to the Bronx has obviously helped.

After getting shut out in long balls in the home opener Monday, the Yankees got two home runs Tuesday and added two more in the second inning Wednesday night. Carlos Beltran launched the first home run of his Yankees career leading off the inning and Kelly Johnson two outs later connected for the second consecutive game.

The long balls were necessary to get the Yankees back in the game because the Orioles had taken a 3-0 lead in the top half of the second on a really long ball by third baseman Jonathan Schoop. Masahiro Tanaka, who gave up a home run to the first batter he faced — Melky Cabrera — in his major league debut last week at Toronto, was victimized again in his Yankee Stadium debut when Schoop clocked one high up inside the left field foul pole for as impressive a homer as you will see.

The Yankees underwent scrutiny in recent years for being dependent on the home run ball with some fans calling for more of a small-ball mentality. Funny how during the five-game homer drought panic was setting in when the Yankees were not reaching the fences on a regular basis.

AL reliever award to be named after Rivera

Mariano Rivera’s legacy received some more added cache Wednesday with the announcement by Major League Baseball that from now on the American League Relief Pitcher of the Year Award will be named after him. The corresponding award in the National League will be named after Trevor Hoffman, who was the first reliever to reach the 600-save plateau and whose record of 601 Mo obliterated by running the number to 652.

The new award replaces the Delivery Man of the Year Award that was presented to one reliever every year instead of one in each league as was done previously with the Rolaids Fireman of the Year Award. Rivera won the Delivery Man of the Year Award three times and the Fireman of the Year Award five times. Hoffman was a two-time Rolaids Award winner.

Those awards were based strictly on statistics. The Rivera and Hoffman Awards will be a vote of nine former relief artists. In addition to Rivera and Hoffman, the other committee members will be Hall of Famers Rollie Fingers, Dennis Eckersley, Bruce Sutter and Goose Gossage as well as former closers Lee Smith, John Franco and Billy Wagner.

The committee members may vote up to three pitchers in order of preference with a tabulation system awarding five points for first place, three for second and one for third, similar to that of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America’s Jackie Robinson Rookie of the Year and Manager of the Year Awards.

Other MLB awards named after former players include the Henry Aaron Award for offensive performance and the Edgar Martinez Award for the top designated hitter in the AL. The BBWAA’s Most Valuable Player Award trophy is named for former commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis. The writers’ pitching award is named for Cy Young.

“Both Mariano and Trevor represented our sport magnificently on and off the mound and earned the universal respect of our fans in their legendary careers,” commissioner Bud Selig said. “I believe it is important to redefine an existing award in honor of their contributions to baseball, and I am delighted that many of the most respected relievers decorated relievers in history will select the winners.”

Matsui gets early trip to Cooperstown

Former Yankees outfielder Hideki Matsui will be among players representing all 30 major-league teams May 24 at the Memorial Day Weekend’s 2014 Hall of Fame Classic at Doubleday Field in Cooperstown, N.Y.

Phil Niekro, who earned his 300th career victory during his time pitching for the Yankees, will be one of six Hall of Fame members who will serve as managers and coaches for the sixth annual Classic. Roberto Alomar, Andre Dawson, Rollie Finges, Eddie Murray and Ozzie Smith will also participate in the event.

To date, the lineup for the 2014 Hall of Fame Classic features players who combined to collect two Most Valuable Player Awards, three World Series MVPs, two All-Star Game MVPs, 56 All-Star Game selections and 18 Gold Glove Awards.

In addition to Matsui and former Yankees pitcher Carl Pavano, the rosters include Livan Hernandez, Jeff Conine, Brad Lidge, David Eckstein, Luis Gonzalez, Ivan Rodriguez, Steve Garvey and Jim Thome. Roster additions will be announced throughout the spring.

The Cooperstown Game Day Parade starts at 12 noon leading up to the Home Run Derby at 1 p.m. followed by the Classic at 2:05 p.m.

Tickets for the Hall of Fame Classic are $12.50 for first and third base seats and $11 for general admission outfield seats. Tickets are currently available via phone or online.

Two ticket packages for the Hall of Fame Classic and Night at the Museum are now available, but limited in quantity:

Classic Connection will feature Hall of Fame Classic ticket and a one-day museum admission pass for $12.50, a savings of $19.50 off the regular rate. Legendary Twinbill features a Hall of Fame Classic ticket, a one-day museum admission pass and a ticket to A Night at the Museum for $50.

Call 877-726-9028 or order online at baseballhall.org.

Walks as good as hits? Not always

About the only good thing to say about Ivan Nova’s performance Tuesday in a 14-5 loss to the Orioles was that he kept the line moving in a string of walkless innings by Yankees starting pitchers. Nova may not have walked anybody, but the Orioles did not lack for base runners against the righthander.

Baltimore touched up Nova for 10 hits in 3 2/3 innings and scored seven runs. The first inning was an ill omen as the Orioles jumped out to a 3-0 lead on singles by Nick Markakis and Delmon Young, a sacrifice fly by Chris Davis and bomb of a two-run home run to center field by Adam Jones.

A successful pickoff play at second base seemed to get Nova out of a jam in the second until he gave up an RBI double to 9-hole hitter Jonathan Schoop, who is filling in for disabled third baseman Manny Machado. The Orioles stung Nova for three more runs and four more hits in the third before he was removed.

Yankees starters have gone an entire turn in the rotation — five starts — without allowing a walk, a stretch of 29 innings in which they have totaled 26 strikeouts. It is the longest such streak since a six-game period from Sept. 5-10, 2002, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

The Orioles did not have much use for bases on balls Tuesday as they sprayed 20 hits, including home runs by Jones, Young and Matt Wieters. The Yankees had their share of hits as well — 13 in all, including home runs by Alfonso Soriano and Kelly Johnson — but they got only one hit in 10 at-bats with runners in scoring position.

Nova’s start was far from ideal on a day when the Yankees’ bullpen was lean. Vidal Nuno had to take one for the team (7 earned runs and 8 hits in 3 1/3 innings) after Nova’s departure. He has not displayed his best stuff in both his starts. There was no sinking action on his fastball nor hard break on his curve.

On the plus side for the Yankees, Jacoby Ellsbury had a double and two singles and is hitting .414 in 29 at-bats. Rookie Yangervis Solarte continues to impress. Two more doubles raised his batting average to a team-high .438. Elias reports that he is the first player since 1900 with at least six doubles through his first seven career games. Soriano also showed signs that he is coming out of his slump with a homer and a double.

Yanks keep playing ‘Who’s on first?’

With Mark Teixeira on the disabled list because of a strained right hamstring, Yankees manager Joe Girardi has to look elsewhere for a first baseman. The Yankees do not have a pure first baseman as a back-up to Teixeira. Girardi had used Kelly Johnson there for two games, the fourth and fifth at the position for Johnson in his major-league career.

Eyebrows were raised a bit in the Yankees’ clubhouse Tuesday when the lineup showed Francisco Cervelli at first base. Yes, that Francisco Cervelli, the Yankees’ back-up catcher. Cervelli had a good spring training with the bat so Girardi wants to find ways to get him in the lineup. With the Yankees having called up Austin Romine, another catcher, from Triple A Scranton, Cervelli can be used while still having the safety net of a back-up catcher available.

Cervelli, who has been taking grounders at the corner infield spots during batting practice, was realistic about his new role. He told Suzyn Waldman on her WFAN Radio pre-game show that he thought about calling Don Mattingly to get his permission to play the position the current Dodgers manager manned so well in his playing days with the Yankees.

Cervelli was tested in the second inning when Ryan Flaherty bunted to the right side for a single that gave the Orioles runners on first and second with none out. Cervelli did his job fielding the ball, but neither pitcher Ivan Nova nor second baseman Brian Roberts rushed to cover first base. Nova and Flaherty atoned for the situation by collaborating on a pickoff of Steve Lombardozzi at second base on the next play.

The Yanks have been utilizing players in various roles in the early going. The Elias Sports Bureau reports that for the first time in franchise history the Yanks did not have a player start the first six games of the season. The previous team to have that situation were the Tigers in 1980.

D-Rob injury takes some glow off home opener

All the positive vibes from the Yankees’ 4-2 victory over the Orioles in Monday’s home opener were tainted somewhat by a singular does of bad news. David Robertson, who has been anointed this year as the success to Mariano Rivera as the Yankees’ closer, is headed for the disabled list because of a Grade 1 groin pull. But there was no truth to the rumor that the Yanks would not let Mo leave the building.

Rivera was on hand with “Core Four” partners Andy Pettitte and Jorge Posada to help make Derek Jeter’s final home opener a cozy afternoon. Jeter missed the 2013 opener while recovering from ankle surgery, so he was really looking forward to this day. The Captain had his share of ups and downs, but the 4-2 final was all he cared about.

“I’ll take the win,” Jeter said.

The victory would have to come without Robertson’s input. When the ninth inning arrived, Yankees manager Joe Girardi turned to Shawn Kelley instead. He came through with a 1-2-3 inning to record his first career save in what was also his first ninth-inning save opportunity as a major leaguer.

Robertson apparently hurt his groin during Sunday’s game at Toronto when he picked up his second save of the season but did not say anything to the staff until he came to Yankee Stadium Monday and complained of soreness. An MRI test revealed the strain. Girardi said he would likely mix and match with the closer role, but Kelley the hardest thrower in the bullpen could be the first choice during the period D-Rob is down.

As he did all day, Jeter tried to put a positive spin on the news.

“It’s better to have it happen at the beginning of the season rather than at the middle or at the end,” he said. “I’m sure he’s disappointed, but from what I understand he’ll be fine.”

Jeter’s day was one of mixed results. He struck out twice and grounded into a double play, although a run did score on the twin killing. No RBI, but to DJ a run is a run. His only hit, a double to left leading off the fifth inning, contained its share of drama as well as the Captain jogged a bit going down the first-base line before he had to step it up and leg out a double on a close play at second base.

“I thought it was a home run at first and then that it might go foul because the wind was tricky,” Jeter said with a sly grin. “I knew then I had to pick up the pace. Hey, I was safe. It would have been really embarrassing if I was out. Some guys got on me until they hit some balls into that wind.”

Jeter was also amused that fans near the dugout cheered him right after he hit into that double play. “I guess they appreciated that I hustled,” he said, “and we got a run.”

It always comes back to that for Jeter; what his play means to the team. For the sellout crowd of 48,142 at Yankee Stadium, it was a treat to be able to cheer for the Captain once more as a new season at home got underway.

“It felt like my first home opener,” Jeter said.

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