Weary bullpen costly to Phelps and Yanks

With a spent bullpen from Wednesday night’s 14-inning marathon, the Yankees did not have much fortification for Thursday night’s starter, David Phelps. Looking at the 9-3 Indians final, it may be hard to believe that it was a 3-0 game through six innings and all Yankees at that.

Phelps sustained his fourth straight no-decision, and this one really hurt. He pitched very well in spots, wiggled out of danger at other times and was working on a five-hit shutout going into the seventh inning. But when the first two Cleveland batters singled, Yankees manager Joe Girardi decided to make a change. Three batters later, the Yankees’ lead was gone.

Lefthander Matt Thornton gave up an infield single to Jason Kipnis that loaded the bases. Asdrubal followed with a drive into the right field corner for a bases-clearing triple that tied the score and left Phelps with yet another ND. Jacoby Ellsbury’s dazzling catch of a Michael Brantley prevented another Indians hit, but it was a sacrifice fly that gave the Tribe the lead.

Righthander Jim Miller could not stop the bleeding in the eighth when the Indians struck for five more runs on five hits, including two-run home runs by catcher Roberto Perez, who had a strong major-league debut (3-for-4, 1 walk, 2 RBI) and Carlos Santana.

The turnaround was a real shame for Phelps, who has not had much to show for an impressive string of starts. Over his past six outings, Phelps is 2-0 with a 3.13 ERA. Considering the state of the Yankees’ rotation, four-fifths of which have landed on the disabled list, Phelps has proved a real boon for the Yankees.

The Indians’ late outburst only served to illuminate early missed opportunities by the Yankees to pile on to their lead. They left 11 runners on base over the first six innings, twice standing the bags loaded.

A couple of Triple A call-ups were responsible for the Yankees’ offense. Zelous Wheeler hit a two-run home run in the fourth. One inning later, Yangervis Solarte, just back from Scranton with Carlos Beltran on the 7-day concussion list, singled in a run. Derek Jeter had two hits for his 1,000th career multi-hit game, only the sixth major-leaguer since 1900 to reach that plateau. Ichiro Suzuki’s pinch single in the eighth inning was his 2,800th hit in the majors on top of the 1,278 he had in Japan. Suzuki might have been called on to pitch if Miller had been unable to get the third out of the eighth inning.

The loss was a blow to the Yankees going into a three-game set at Baltimore. The Orioles beat Washington to move four games ahead of the Yankees in the American League East standings, which means the Yankees cannot move into first place even with a series sweep the weekend before the All-Star break.

No surgery for Tanaka, out for at least 6 weeks

The news on Masahiro Tanaka was good and bad. The good news is that the Japanese righthander does not require surgery at the present time. The bad news is that Tanaka will be lost to the Yankees for at least six weeks and could eventually need Tommy John surgery anyway.

Yankees general manager Brian Cashman told reporters on a conference call that Tanaka has been diagnosed with a partial tear of the ulnar collateral ligament. Three doctors reached the same conclusion regarding Tanaka’s elbow condition that surgery is not recommended at this time and that he will undergo a rehabilitation program that could have him back with the Yankees in six weeks.

That is probably the best-case scenario the Yankees could have hoped for after learning that Tanaka had pain in his right elbow following his start Tuesday night in which he allowed season-high totals of five earned runs and 10 hits in a 5-3 loss to the Indians.

The key now is how the pitcher proceeds through his rehab. Any setback could result in his needing surgery that would shelve him for more than a year. The Yanks do not even want to think about that dire possibility.

Another milestone for Jeter

With his sixth-inning single Thursday night at Cleveland, his second hit of the game, Derek Jeter achieved his 1,000th multi-hit game of his career. He became only the sixth player in history to accomplish the feat. The other five are among the greatest hitters of all time — Ty Cobb (1,293), Pete Rose (1,225), Stan Musial (1,059), Tris Speaker (1,059) and Henry Aaron (1,046).

Jeter’s first hit of the game was an infield single in the first inning only moments after former teammates Nick Swisher and Jason Giambi along with Indians manager Terry Francona took part in a pregame ceremony in which the shortstop was honored in his last trip to Cleveland.

The Captain received an artwork made up of Legos depicting his first career home run at Progressive Field, then known as Jacobs Field, and a pinstriped guitar with his No. 2 on the front. After all, Cleveland is the home of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Just the night before, Jeet drew his 1,070th career base on balls in the 10th inning of the Yanks’ 5-4, 14-inning victory, which moved him past former teammate Bernie Williams for sole sole possession of fourth place on the Yankees’ all-time walks list. The week began for DJ Sunday at Minneapolis with his collecting his 3,400th career hit.

Solarte kept playing hard, earned recall

One of the dangers of a player being sent down to the minor leagues during a season is that he may pout and fall into a funk after he leaves the major league club. A manager always tells a player not to let that happen and that whatever he does down in the minors is watched closely so that he always has the chance of coming back.

Yangvervis Solarte obviously took that message from Yankees manager Joe Girardi to heart last week when he was farmed out to Triple A Scranton. Solarte is no stranger to the minor leagues, of course. He spent eight years there before making it with the Yankees out of spring training camp back in April.

In five games at Scranton, Solarte batted .600 with three doubles, a triple and five RBI in 20 at-bats. That’s right; he went 12-for-20 and had a 1.469 OPS in his brief time with the RailRiders. That earned him a recall Thursday and a return to the lineup at third base for the series finale at Cleveland.

Solarte was added to the roster because outfielder-designated hitter Carlos Beltran was placed on the seven-day concussion list after he suffered a broken nose during batting practice before Wednesday night’s game when a batted ball ricocheted off the side of the cage and struck him in the face.

“You don’t expect that to happen when you’re practicing,” Beltran said on. “I had a headache for the whole day. Now it’s getting better. Hopefully tomorrow it will get better and I could be back soon.”

Girardi said Beltran will not return until the Friday after the All-Star break, July 18, when the Yankees open an inter-league, weekend series against the Reds.

There was no update on the condition of pitcher Masahiro Tanaka, who is on the 15-day disabled list because of right elbow inflammation. Tanaka underwent an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) and traveled to Seattle where Dr. Chris Ahmad, the Yankees’ team physician, is attending an orthopedist convention.

Yankees win marathon at end of gloomy day

It took 14 innings and 4 hours, 51 minutes, but the Yankees finally found something to smile about Wednesday after hearing the depressing news earlier in the day that Masahiro Tanaka won’t be around for the rest of this trip.

The Yankees went seven innings without scoring before Jacoby Ellsbury homered off Indians righthander Vinnie Pestano with two out in the 14th to take a 5-4 lead. They then had to sweat through the bottom half as the Tribe got a runner to second base with one out. David Robertson struck out Asdrubal Cabrera and notched his 22nd save when Zoilo Almonte ran down Michael Brantley’s drive to left field.

The game came close to ending in Cleveland’s favor in the 10th when David Huff, one of eight Yankees pitcher, walked the bases loaded with one out. Shawn Kelley came to the rescue with a big strikeout of Nick Swisher and withstood a long foul down the right field line by David Murphy before retiring him on a ground ball to shortstop.

Brandon McCarthy was the 10th different pitcher to start for the Yankees this season. There could be an 11th Sunday night in place of Tanaka, who went on the 15-day disabled list because of right elbow inflammation, unless Chase Whitley returns to the rotation. Whitley pitched two innings of one-hit, three-strikeout relief to get the winning decision Wednesday night.

McCarthy found out right away what it can be like for a Yankees starter when two regulars were out of the lineup. Left fielder Brett Gardner was nursing an abdominal strain. Designated hitter Carlos Beltran was supposed to return to the lineup after missing two games because of a swollen right knee. But during batting practice, a ball Beltran hit ricocheted off the cage and struck him in the face.

Derek Jeter, who was originally slated for a night off, had to take over at DH. Brian Roberts, who was to have batted in DJ’s usual second spot in the order, was dropped to Beltran’s 5-hole. Almonte, just called up from Triple A Scranton, was in left field, and another recent call-up, Zelous Wheeler, was at third base. I can’t remember the last time the Yankees had two guys whose names begin with ‘Z’ in the lineup at the same time.

McCarthy, a 6-foot-7 righthander who was only 3-10 for Arizona this year, got off to a quirky start as the Indians scored three runs off him in the first inning, although none was earned because of a throwing error by Mark Teixeira. Throwing to second base trying for a double play after fielding a grounder by Carlos Santana, Tex hit Brantley, the runner, which loaded the bases with one out.

An infield out, which should have been the third of the inning, brought in one run, and Swisher delivered two more with a single to right-center. Swish continued his punishment of his old club in this series. He homered in each of the prior two games.

Teixeira made up for his wayward throw by getting those three runs back for McCarthy with a pair of home runs off Indians starter Josh Tomlin. Brian McCann also drove in a run with a sacrifice fly in the Yankees’ three-run fifth as they took the lead.

McCarthy couldn’t maintain it, however. Cabrera doubled with one out in the bottom of the fifth and scored on a two-out single by Santana. Still, it was a favorable first outing for the pitcher recently obtained in a trade for lefthander Vidal Nuno. McCarthy gave them what Nuno did not always provide, distance. McCarthy lasted for 6 2/3 innings and displayed a decent sinker. Of his 20 outs, 12 were on ground balls and two others were in the infield to go with three strikeouts.

Tanaka sustains first severe setback with elbow pain

How many Yankees found themselves over the course of the first portion of the 2014 season asking this question:

“Where would be without Masahiro Tanaka?”

Let’s hope we don’t have to find that out. Yankees Universe held a collective breath Wednesday with the news that Tanaka returned to New York to have an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) exam on his right elbow after complaining of soreness there during the Yankees’ 5-3 loss Tuesday night at Cleveland. Tanaka allowed five runs and 10 hits, both season highs against him, in 6 2/3 innings.

For the time being, the Yankees are terming the injury right elbow inflammation. He was placed on the 15-day disabled list, which now makes four-fifths of the Opening Day rotation on the DL. Ivan Nova is lost for the entire season. CC Sabathia may be also, and Michael Pineda won’t likely be back before August. Hiroki Kuroda, the only member of the Opening Day rotation still a member of the starting unit, better not walk under any ladders.

It is not yet time for Yankees fans to push the panic button despite the dire news. The club won’t know for sure what Tanaka’s issue is until the MRI is studied. The problem is that Dr. Chris Ahmad, the team physician, is attending a major orthopedist convention in Seattle, the same one that has prevented the noted surgeon Dr. James Andrews from examining Sabathia’s ailing right knee to determine if surgery is required.

Tanaka’s next scheduled start was to have been Sunday night at Baltimore, the Yankees’ final game before the All-Star break. The righthander was selected for the American League squad but was not expected to pitch in the game because of the Sunday start. It is unclear now whether he will go to Minneapolis for the game. The AL has replaced him on the roster with Red Sox reliever Koji Uehara, which stinks. It should have been David Robertson.

That is the least of the Yankees’ concern at this point. Tanaka, their prize signing in the past off-season, had proved to be every bit as effective on this side of the Pacific Ocean as he was back home in Japan where he was 24-0 last year.

In his first 14 starts for the Yankees, Tanaka was 11-1 with two no-decisions and a 1.99 ERA. He has come down to Earth somewhat in the past four starts in which he is 1-3 with a 4.25 ERA. Tanaka has nonetheless placed himself in contention for the AL Cy Young and Jackie Robinson Rookie of the Year Awards by leading the league in victories with his 12-4 record, tied for first in complete games with three and ranking second in ERA at 2.51.

Now it is matter of watch and wait to see how serious the injury to Tanaka is. As for the answer to that question, well, figure it out: the Yankees were 13-5 in games started by Tanaka and 31-39 in games started by everyone else.

Swisher hurts old club with homer off Tanaka

The Yankees’ rotation got a pleasant jolt Monday night when Triple A Scranton call-up Shane Greene pitched six strong innings for his first major-league victory and earned another start, which he will make Saturday at Baltimore with Chase Whitley moving to a spot in the bullpen.

The rotation got a different sort of jolt Tuesday night as Masahiro Tanaka got beat up. Oh, he wasn’t completely battered, but the Japanese righthander has been so impressive in the first portion of the 2014 season that it was stunning to watch him blow a two-run lead in the middle innings and finish after 6 2/3 innings with five earned runs and 10 hits allowed, both season highs, or lows as the case may be.

Just as they had for Greene the night before, the Yankees broke out to an early lead against the Indians, who helped matters along with some shabby defense. The Tribe made three errors in the first five innings, including a wild throw to second base by catcher Yon Gomes on a double steal that allowed Jacoby Ellsbury to score the second run of the first inning. Mark Teixeira, who drove in the first run with a single, got his first stolen base of the season on the back end of the twin swipe.

The teams exchanged runs over the next inning before Tanaka seemed to settle in. His splitter got him five strikeouts into the fourth inning, but he seemed to abandon it in favor of his slider. A hanger to Nick Swisher proved especially costly as the former Yankees outfielder crushed it for a two-run home run, his second homer in two nights, that put the Indians ahead in the sixth.

Tanaka had even more problems with Michael Brantley, who doubled in a run in the first inning, doubled in another with two out in the fifth and bashed his 14th homer in the seventh. The two will be American League teammates in next week’s All-Star Game. I wonder if Tanaka will shake Brantley’s hand.

It marked the second straight game that Tanaka gave up four or more runs, although he won that previous start. What made this game interesting is that usually Tanaka dominates the first time he faces a club. This was Cleveland’s first look at Tanaka, and the Tribe obviously took the correct approach.

It did not help Tanaka one bit that the Yankees could not pad on their 2-0 and 3-1 leads. They did not get a hit after the third inning as Indians starter Trevor Bauer pitched four scoreless innings and relievers Bryan Shaw and Corey Allen added one apiece. The last 13 Yankees batters in the game were retired, five on strikeouts.

Ellsbury made a rare base-running blunder in the fifth when he was thrown out trying to steal third base with a left-handed batter, Brian McCann, at the plate with two out. Making the third out on such an attempt is a cardinal sin but was overlooked at the time because the Yankees had a two-run lead. But not for long.

Newcomer Brandon McCarthy will make his first start for the Yankees Wednesday night at Progressive Field. Ready for another jolt?

McCann unhappy with start, happy with New York

As if he did not have enough to deal with, Brian McCann had to respond Tuesday to a New York Post article in which his former hitting coach, Terry Pendleton of the Braves, questioned the catcher’s decision to leave his home-state team to sign as a free agent with the Yankees.

“New York is not Brian,” Pendleton said during an interview at Citi Field where the Braves were scheduled against the Mets. “That’s my opinion. I knew if he chose New York, there would be more than he expected or knew about. He’ll never be comfortable with that. Going from Atlanta to New York is a different animal. Brian McCann is going to put more heat on himself and for him, trying to do more is the worst thing for him. I’ve learned that. That money is hanging over his head. A lot of guys say, ‘I’ve got to live up to that,’ instead of, ‘They signed you to play your game.’ “

McCann took the high road, which is consistent with his nature. He praised Pendleton for his past help during his time in Atlanta and then gently disputed his opinion. In the article, Pendleton, a former National League Most Valuable Player (1991 with the Braves), added that McCann would have been better off if he was leaving Atlanta to go to Texas rather than New York.

“I read the article; I disagree,” McCann told reporters in Cleveland where the Yankees are amid a four-game set against the Indians. “I absolutely love it here [New York]. I’ve got off to a slow start, but I absolutely love it here. It’s his opinion. That’s all I can say, it’s his opinion on it.”

McCann has struggled in the first half with a batting average some 40 points below his career mark, but there have been signs lately that despite a sore left foot he is coming around offensively. He returned to the lineup Monday and had three hits. His third-inning single Tuesday night was his ninth hit in his past 22 at-bats, a .409 pace.

“I really haven’t noticed a big difference,” he said. “It’s still baseball. It’s still you put a uniform on, you go out and put your best foot forward. That’s what I’m doing. It just hasn’t gone quite like I wish it would, but at the same time, we’ve got a whole half of baseball left. We’re in a pennant race and those are the things that I’m focused on.”

“Everyone’s entitled to their opinion,” Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. “Sometimes it takes people a little time to adjust. I think people are just looking at his average when they’re talking about his numbers. From a production standpoint he has been pretty decent. He has done a great job behind home plate with our pitching staff. You put all those things together and yeah, he’s not hitting .280, but he’s played pretty well. I think he’ll be fine. I don’t think it will be an issue. I think he loves it here. I think he enjoys playing here. And I think Brian expects a lot from himself. So people expecting a lot from him is not going to bother him.”

Rookies get major league firsts at start & finish

The Yankees helped relieve some of the pressure on Shane Greene making his first major league start Monday night at Cleveland by knocking out Indians starter Justin Masterson two batters into the third inning en route to building a 5-0 lead.

Masterson usually has his way with the Yankees at Progressive Field. He took a 3-0 record and 0.38 ERA in three career starts against the Yanks in the Tribe’s home yard into the game. He was nowhere close to that effective Monday night as the Yankees chased him with five runs, six hits, three walks and a hit batter in two-plus innings.

Brian McCann, who originally was supposed to catch Greene, was the designated hitter instead as Carlos Beltran was removed from the lineup because of a swollen right knee. Greene did just fine with backup Francisco Cervelli behind the plate. McCann did just fine with the bat, too, banging out a double and two singles and scoring two runs, a good sign to see.

Brett Gardner and Ichiro Suzuki joined McCann in the hit parade with three apiece as well. It was the second straight three-hit game for Ichiro, who raised his season batting average to .304.

The Yankees could not have asked for a better first outing from Greene, who was with them earlier in the year and pitched a third of an inning in relief. This time, he went a full six innings and did not allow a hit until two out in the fifth when Nick Swisher broke up the no-hit bid and the shutout at the same time with his sixth home run. Greene was touched for another run in the sixth

Greene was not overpowering. He had only two strikeouts, both coming in the fifth inning, but did not walk anyone, either. He hit one batter, Asdrubal Cabrera, who was eventually caught trying to steal second base. Greene got 11 of his 18 outs in the infield, nine on ground balls.

David Huff worked a 1-2-3 seventh but gave up a home run to Yan Gomes leading off the eighth. Dellin Betances celebrated his being named to the American League All-Star squad by getting the final six outs to record his first major-league save to preserve Greene’s first major-league victory.

Betances got a major assist from shortstop Derek Jeter to get out of the eighth inning without damage. Jason Kipnis, on first base because of an error by second baseman Brian Roberts, fell victim to Jeter’s pretending to take a throw at second on a hit-and-run play, and was embarrassingly doubled up on Cabrera’s foul pop behind third base.

The Yankees are 26-15 in games started by rookies. With the state of the rotation uncertain for much of the period before the All-Star break, the young people stepping up has been huge.

Jeter moves up on All-Star lists

Derek Jeter’s election as the American League’s starting shortstop in next week’s All-Star Game at Target Field in Minneapolis marks the ninth time in his career that he has been voted in the fan balloting to start the game. He received 3,928,422 votes, which raised his career total to 47,433,242, second only to Ken Griffey Jr., the all-time leader with 50,045,065 total votes.

This year will mark the 14th All-Star appearance for Jeter as he passed former teammate Mariano Rivera and Hall of Famer Joe DiMaggio into third place on the franchise list behind two other Hall of Famers, Mickey Mantle (20) and Yogi Berra (18).

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Jeter is the only active player to be named to the All-Star Game with his current team at least 14 times. The record for All-Star Games by a player for only one team is 24 by Hall of Famer Stan Musial with the Cardinals. Hank Aaron was on 25 All-Star Game rosters — 24 with the Braves and one with the Brewers. Willie Mays played in 23 All-Star Games with the Giants and one with the Mets. The AL record is 19 games by Ted Williams with the Red Sox and Cal Ripken Jr. with the Orioles.

The other two Yankees on the AL squad are newcomers to the process, pitchers Masahiro Tanaka and Dellin Betances. This will be the first time the Yankees have had two rookies attending the All-Star Game.

These are all good choices, but I think more consideration should have been given to David Robertson and Brett Gardner. Rivera used to be an automatic choice. D-Rob isn’t at Mo’s level yet, but he has easily been one of the best closers in the league and leads AL pitchers in strikeouts per nine innings. Gardner got lost in the abundance of outfielders, but he has been the Yankees’ steadiest offensive player and remains the league’s top defensive left fielder.

Gardner got hits in his first two at-bats Monday night at Cleveland and has reached base safely in 22 straight games with a plate appearance since June 13. It is the longest such streak for the Yankees since Robinson Cano reached base safely in 26 straight games in 2012 from June 20 to July 20. It also matches Gardner’s longest such streak from 2009. He has hit safely in 18 of those 22 games.

Jeter and Ichiro Suzuki with three singles apiece Sunday at Minnesota became the third pair of teammates each in their 40s in major-league history to get at least three hits in the same game, joining the 1928 Philadelphia Athletics’ Ty Cobb and Tris Speaker and the 2006 San Francisco Giants’ Barry Bonds and Moises Alou. Elias also pointed out that notes Saturda, Jeter and Suzuki became the first pair of 40-year-old teammates with a stolen base in the same game since Bonds and Omar Vizquel for the Giants in 2007.

Prior to Monday night’s game at Progressive Field, the Indians organization paid tribute to the team’s late TV/radio personality Mike Hegan, who died last Christmas Day of a heart condition at the age of 71. Hegan was originally signed by the Yankees in 1961 and played for them in two separate stints. He was the son of former Indians All-Star catcher Jim Hegan, who later was a bullpen coach with the Yankees.

Mike Hegan spent 12 seasons in the majors and had some distinctions. With the expansion Seattle Pilots in 1969, he hit the first home run for that franchise and made the AL All-Star team. The Pilots lasted only one season in Seattle and moved in 1970 to Milwaukee and became the Brewers.

Hegan was a member of the Oakland A’s team that won the first of three straight World Series in 1972 before returning to the Yankees. Mike was the last player to bat in the original Yankee Stadium Sept. 30, 1973 in a loss to the Tigers. By the time the Yankees opened the renovated Stadium, Hegan was back in Milwaukee. I was working in Detroit in the 1970s and was at Tiger Stadium covering the Sept. 3, 1976 game when Hegan hit for the cycle.

After his playing days, Hegan went into the broadcast booth with the Brewers for 12 seasons before returning to his hometown Cleveland and working Indians games for 23 seasons. A heart ailment forced him into retirement after the 2012 season.

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