April 2013

Yanks’ legs plenty strong in this victory

Speed has not been that much an element to the Yankees’ offense this year. It was thought that they would suffer a power outage this season with the loss of several sluggers, but the Yankees continue to lead the American League in home runs with 36, the most recent coming on Lyle Overbay’s solo shot in the eighth inning of Tuesday night’s 7-4 victory over the Astros.

The Yankees’ other runs were due more to their legs than their brawn, which was good to see. They entered the game with nine stolen bases, the second lowest total in the league. They used thefts to help manufacture the first two runs. Travis Hafner got two of his three RBI because of the steals by Brett Gardner in the first inning and Ichiro Suzuki in the third.

Houston starter Philip Humber also helped the Yankees move around the bases by throwing four wild pitches in his six innings. Two came in the fifth inning in which the Yankees scored twice with only one ball reaching the outfield. Suzuki and Jayson Nix beat out infield hits, and a dash to first base by Brennan Boesch averted a double play and resulted in a run as well.

Eduardo Nunez ran from out of his helmet as usual to turn two of his three hits into doubles, the second of which led to a run in the three-run eighth on a single by Chris Stewart. They seemed like pad-on runs at the time, but the Astros rallied in the ninth against Shawn Kelley that prompted manager Joe Girardi to summon Mariano Rivera, who restored order with a strikeout and earned his 10th save.

Hafner and Suzuki also had three hits in the Yankees’ 15-hit assault. Humber’s record fell to 0-6. He is 4-11 since pitching that perfect game April 21 last year for the White Sox at Seattle.

Hiroki Kuroda overcame a shaky first three innings to pitch a four-hit shutout through seven innings. The Astros were hitless in six at-bats with runners in scoring position over those first three innings and stranded seven base runners. Kuroda found himself after that and pitched to the minimum number of batters through the seventh and is now 4-1 with a 2.25 ERA.

The Astros didn’t score until Chris Carter hit a two-run home run off David Robertson in the eighth. They got two more runs off Kelley in the ninth before Rivera put the finishing touch on a surprisingly strong April for the Yankees, who posted a 16-10 record despite having six regular position players and two-fifths of the rotation on the disabled list during the month.

Youkilis joins crowded bunch on DL

The Yankees’ disabled list continues to grow. Kevin Youkilis became the sixth regular position player to go on the DL, joining Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Curtis Granderson, Mark Teixeira and Francisco Cervelli as well as a regular in the pitching rotation, Ivan Nova.

Youkilis, who has alternated at first base and third base for Tex and A-Rod, has been bothered by back soreness for more than a week. He received an epidural Tuesday to help combat a lumbar spine sprain. Yankees management admitted it was a mistake for Youkilis to have played Saturday. Had he not played, Youkilis could have been back-dated on the DL to April 21, which would have made him eligible to come off sometime later this week. Now he cannot come off the DL until May 13.

The Yankees recalled infielder Corban Joseph from Triple A Scranton. Joseph, 24, played second base mostly at Scranton where he was batting .273 with six doubles, four home runs and nine RBI in 22 games and 88 at-bats but will be needed mostly to play third base and shortstop. He situated himself next to Jeter in the dugout, which is a good place to be if you want to learn about the shortstop position.

Vidal Nuno did well in his major-league debut Monday night in a mop-up role in the Yankees’ 9-1 loss to the Astros. The lefthander, who was recalled when Nova went on the DL, pitched three scoreless innings and allowed four hits and no walks with two strikeouts.

Before Tuesday night’s game, Mariano Rivera as part of his farewell tour in 2013 met with 20 of the Yankees’ longest season ticket-holders in the press conference room on the service level of Yankee Stadium. Mo took part in a question-and-answer session with the fans, each of whom received an autographed photo of the closer.

Pettitte roughed up by former team

The Astros, appearing at Yankee Stadium as an American League team for the first time, had a rude welcome Monday night for former teammate Andy Pettitte. Houston stunned the crowd with a three-run rally in the first inning after two were out.

Pettitte spent three seasons (2004-06) with the Astros before returning to the Yankees in 2007. In his only previous start against Houston June 11, 2010, Pettitte earned his 200th career victory. Recent call-up Austin Romine got his first start of the season behind the plate for Pettitte.

The noise began off Pettitte with a two-out single to center by Brandon Laird, who got into 25 games for the Yankees in 2011, the year that Pettitte retired from the game only to come back to the Yankees the following season. Chris Carter singled sharply to left, which brought up Pettitte nemesis Carlos Pena.

You would think that a free-swinging, left-handed batter like Pena would be a pigeon against the left-handed Pettitte. Not so. Pena took a .326 batting average with six home runs in 43 career at-bats against Pettitte into the first-inning plate appearance and improved on it with a line single to right for Houston’s first run.

Andy continued to struggle as he walked Ronny Cedeno on four pitches, which loaded the bases. Carlos Corporan, the Houston catcher, drove in two more runs with a double to right. Even the third out of the inning, a liner to shortstop by Matt Dominguez, was well-struck. Pettitte got off to a shaky start in the second when he hit Robbie Grossman with a pitch, but that was rectified when Jose Altuve grounded into a double play.

Pena struck again in the third with two out as he tripled off the center-field wall. It was his third career triple in 45 at-bats off Pettitte and raised his career average against him to .356. Pena was stranded, however, as Cedeno flied out to left to end the inning.

If most of these Astros names sound unfamiliar, you are not alone. Houston has the lowest payroll in the league and entered the game with a 7-18 record, the worst in the AL. The Astros did not look that bad against Pettitte. They scored two more two-out runs in the fourth inning on successive, RBI doubles by Altuve and Brandon Barnes. Pettitte had not allowed more than three runs in any of his previous four starts.

He departed in the fifth after giving up a one-out double to Cedeno on a ball that hit the third base bag, hopped over Jayson Nix and down the left field line. Both runners Pettitte left on base upon his departure ended up scoring on a wild pitch by Adam Warren and a two-run homer by Corporan, who had four of the Astros’ 17 hits in their 9-1 victory.

“I don’t know if I’ve ever seen him without his slider,” Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. “That’s a swing-and-miss pitch for him, but it wasn’t there for him.”

“Not to give us a chance to win this game makes me sick to my stomach,” Pettitte said.

Pettitte’s ERA grew from 2.22 to 3.86. It was that kind of night for Andy.

April 30 — important day in Yankees history

Tuesday is April 30, which is one of the most significant calendar days in Yankees history. The franchise was introduced to New York City on that date 110 years ago, and one of its iconic figures began and ended his career on the same date 16 years apart.

The old Baltimore Orioles club that moved to New York City in 1903 at the start of the third season of the American League became known as the Highlanders because their playing field at the time was located in the highlands area on the Upper West Side of Manhattan that is now the central location of New York-Presbyterian Hospital at West 168th Street.

The Highlanders played their first home game at Hilltop Park April 30, 1903 and defeated the Washington Senators, 6-2. It was the Highlanders’ eighth game of the season and evened their record at 4-4 after opening the season by splitting a four-game series at Washington, D.C., and losing two of three games to the Athletics in Philadelphia.

Managed by future Hall of Famer Clark Griffith and featuring another future Hall of Famer, outfielder Willie Keeler, the team that would become known as the Yankees 10 years later finished with a 72-62 record and fourth of eight teams in the AL.

Moving forward 20 years, the Yankees signed a 19-year-old Columbia University pitcher and outfielder from Manhattan named Henry Louis Gehrig to a professional contract. Lou Gehrig’s reputation as a power hitter was established in the Ivy League, and before the 1923 season was over he made his first appearance in the major leagues. Gehrig got into 13 games that year for the Yanks and batted .423 with four doubles, one triple, one home run and nine RBI in 26 at-bats.

Gehrig spent most of the 1924 season in the minor leagues as well before coming up for good in 1925 and replaced Wally Pipp at first base every day for the next decade and a half. Sixteen years to the day he signed his first pro contract, Gehrig played in his last major-league game, a 3-2 loss to the Senators at Yankee Stadium in which he had 0-for-4. It was Gehrig’s 2,130th consecutive game, a record that stood until Cal Ripken Jr. broke it in September, 1995.

Gehrig was already suffering from the symptoms of arterial lateral sclerosis (ALS), the disease that forced him to out of the next game. May 1 was an open date for the Yankees. Gehrig was in manager Joe McCarthy’s starting batting order for May 2 at Detroit, but the “Iron Horse” took himself out of the lineup and never played again. Gehrig was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1939 and died in 1941.

Yanks still beasts in the East

Okay, it is time now to forget all this stuff about how the American League East is not just about everybody chasing the Yankees and the Red Sox. After a lot of talk in pre-season publications that the division will have a different look and that the traditional rivals aren’t the teams they used to be, well, take a lot at the standings. The reconstituted Red Sox are in first place, and the pieced-together Yankees are right behind them.

The Blue Jays? The team that brought to Toronto all that star power from the Marlins trade plus the acquisition of last year’s National League Cy Young Award winner (R.A. Dickey) and the signing of last year’s NL batting champion, Melky Cabrera (I don’t care what Bud Selig says; Cabrera had the highest batting average in the NL in 2012), is at the bottom of the AL East with the third worst record in the major leagues.

The Yankees kept Toronto in its place with their first four-game sweep of the Jays at Yankee Stadium since Sept. 18-21, 1995, which was the rookie season of Mariano Rivera, who made it 9-for-9 in saves this year by wrapping up Sunday’s 3-2 victory over Dickey. That makes it both of last year’s Cy Young Award winners that the Yankees beat in a week’s time. They defeated the Rays’ David Price, the 2012 American League winner, five days earlier at St. Petersburg, Fla.

All those warning signals that went up when the Yankees started 1-4 out of the gate seem silly now that they won 14 of their past 19 games with contributions coming from just about everyone on the roster, particularly from some guys other clubs couldn’t wait to rid themselves of.

Take Sunday, for example. The Yankees had only four hits, but two of them were home runs off Dickey by Brennan Boesch and Lyle Overbay. During spring training, the Yanks signed Boesch after he was released by the Tigers and Overbay after he was released by the Red Sox. The Angels were willing to eat more than half of what was left of the sizeable contract of Vernon Wells, who has batted .379 with three homers and six RBI in seven games against Toronto this year, six of them Yankees victories.

Overbay entered the game with a 1-for-14 (.071) career mark against Dickey but ended up going 2-for-3. His third homer of the season, a two-run shot in the seventh with two out, turned a 2-1 deficit into a 3-2 lead that was held up by the relief work of Boone Logan, David Robertson and the great Rivera. The long ball has haunted Dickey (2-4, 4.54 ERA), who has yielded five home runs in 36 innings.

The Yankees came from behind in all four games of the series and won two games by one run apiece and the other two by two runs each. They are 9-1 in games decided by two runs or less, 4-0 in one-run games and 14-1 when holding opponents to four runs or less.

Phil Hughes remains winless this season despite a good, six-inning outing in which he gave up seven hits and a walk (intentional) with nine strikeouts. One of the two runs he allowed was the result of three soft, two-out singles in the fourth. Hughes was once again plagued by an elevated pitch count (111), but for the first time since Aug. 7 last year he did not give up a home run in a start at Yankee Stadium. He had allowed a total of 10 homers over his previous six starts at the Stadium.

Rivera now has the highest saves total in one month for his career and has converted 32 saves in a row at the Stadium since the start of the 2011 season. Overall, the bullpen has been sensational. Over the past six games, the relief corps has held opponents to three earned runs, three walks and 11 hits in 17 innings with 24 strikeouts and a 1.59 ERA.

And, remember, the Yankees are doing all of this with five regulars out of the lineup. Francisco Cervelli last week joined Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Curtis Granderson and Mark Teixeira on the disabled list, and Kevin Youkilis with an ailing back may not be far behind. This should have been the time that the Yankees were the most vulnerable, but they have stayed near the top of the division standings while the Blue Jays have stumbled to the bottom.

The tightness in the scores of this series indicated that Toronto was not exactly blown away by the Yankees, but the losses continue to mount with a 9-17 record looking fearfully like a team pretty much buried before the first month of the season is completed. The Jays can moan all they want about the loss of All-Star shortstop Jose Reyes, but the Yankees have shown that injuries to key players do not have to be crippling.

Sore back bites Youkilis again

Kevin Youkilis may not have done the Yankees any favors by playing Saturday. After missing six games because of persistent back stiffness, Youkilis returned to the lineup in Saturday’s 5-4 Yankees victory over the Blue Jays and had 0-for-3 with a walk and a run scored.

When Youkilis awakened Sunday, however, his back had stiffened up again and was unavailable for Sunday’s series finale.

“It’s a little concerning for me,” Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. “I’ve said that all backs can be tricky. I’m a guy who has had to deal with it for a number of years. Sometimes you have no idea why it acts up.”

But by acting up Sunday, Youkilis’ back cost the Yankees some time if it turns out that he needs to go on the 15-day disabled list. Had he not played Saturday and the Yanks decided he would need a DL stint, it could have back-dated to his previous game played April 20 and he would have been available by May 6. If he should go on the DL now, Youkilis would be out until May 13.

“He is an important guy to our lineup because he kind of surrounds some of the left-handed hitters and he is a production guy and he is a home run guy,” Girardi said. “He is important, so we have to get this right. We can’t push it too fast. If there are days that he is a little stiff, we may have to back off a little bit and try again the next day.”

Hafner makes good on Girardi’s hunch

Yankees manager Joe Girardi knows that he has to be careful with Travis Hafner. Injuries have plagued the slugger in recent years. Sometimes a manager gets a hunch. Saturday was just that kind of day. The Blue Jays were starting a lefthander, J.A. Happ, but aware that the right-handed portion of the designated hitter platoon, Ben Francisco, is struggling (.103 in 29 at-bats) Girardi chose to give the lefty-swinging Hafner a rare start against a southpaw.

How it turned out was just downright beautiful. All Hafner did was drive in four runs as the Yankees turned back the Blue Jays again, 5-4, behind another gritty effort from CC Sabathia. This was like old times for Travis and CC, former teammates at Cleveland. It was another victory due in large part to the newcomers with the Yankees this year; in this case Hafner and Vernon Wells, who drove in the other Yankees run.

Just as was the case in recent years of the likes of Freddy Garcia, Bartolo Colon, Raul Ibanez and Andruws Jones, among others, who thrived with the Yankees in their twilight years, Hafner and Wells have found a fountain of youth in the Bronx.

“This is a great place to play,” Girardi said. “It’s a great clubhouse. There are great expectations. Guys feed off that.”

It was quite an afternoon. Sabathia fell into a 3-0 hole, but the Yankees helped him climb out of it so that he ended up pitching through eight innings and improving his record to 4-2 despite yet another game when his stuff was not top shelf.

“I was all over the place in the early innings,” Sabathia said. “They just missed some balls that I left out over the middle of the plate.”

“He competes, that’s what he does,” Girardi said of Sabathia. “He has not been as sharp in April, but he has four victories, so I am not going to complain.”

Newly thrust into the starting catcher role with Francisco Cervelli out for six weeks with a right hand fracture, Chris Stewart had a rough time of it in the fourth inning. A passed ball and an error helped the Blue Jays to a gift run that gave Toronto the 3-0 lead.

Sabathia, still searching for some velocity on a fastball that rarely topped 90 miles per hour, had an unusual number of fly-ball outs in the early innings. Nobody was catching the ball Jose Bautista hit to start the fourth inning, however. It darted into the left field stands for his seventh home run.

Edwin Encarnacion, who had five home runs in his previous four games, followed with a single and advanced to second on a groundout. Stewart’s passed ball put Encarnacion at third base. He tried to score on Brett Lawrie’s flyout to right field, but Ichiro Suzuki’s laser-beam throw to the plate beat Encarnacion. Plate umpire Jeff Kellogg was prepared to call Encarnacion out, but the ball was dropped by Stewart, a costly error.

Fortunately for the Yankees, Happ got careless with the lead as he began the bottom of the fourth by walking Wells and Kevin Youkilis, who was back in the lineup after missing six games due to back stiffness.

Hafner lowered the boom and brought the Yankees even with his sixth home run, a three-run shot to right-center. He had never faced Happ before, but Hafner was a welcome addition to the batting order.

Lawrie picked up the RBI he lost in the fourth two innings later when he lined a home run to right field that put Toronto back in front.

Not for long, though, as Hafner struck again in the seventh. Righthander Esmil Rogers took over at that point and gave up a one-out double to Robinson Cano, who nearly didn’t get to second base before a remarkably strong and accurate by Bautista from the right field warning track. Wells tied the score with a single to center.

The Yankees stayed out of the double play by sending Wells as Youkilis grounded out to third base. Blue Jays manager John Gibbons brought in another lefthander, Brett Cecil, to face Hafner, who tripled off the glove of center fielder Rajai Davis. In the top of the inning, Brett Gardner made a fence-slamming catch off a similar drive by Bautista. It was the 13th career triple for Hafner and his third over the past six years. This was the first time since 2007 that Hafner has had a triple and a stolen base in the same season.

“Probably tiring,” Hafner said about what it felt like getting to third base. “You want to get some quality at-bats against a lefthander once in a while. It would be nice to get some starts, but I also know that they have my best interests at heart.”

Wanting to stay away from Mariano Rivera, who pitched in three of the previous four games, Girardi used Joba Chamberlain out of the bullpen in the ninth. He was touched for a couple of one-out singles but eventually slammed the door for his fifth career save and first since Sept. 21, 2010 at St. Petersburg, Fla.

The Yankees are now 13-5 since opening the season 1-4, 8-1 in games decided by two or fewer runs, 3-0 in one-run games and 13-1 when holding opponents to four runs or less. In addition, the Yankees are creating distance from the disappointing Jays, who are 9-16 and six games behind the 14-9 Yankees in the American League East. Toronto’s 11-28 (.282) record at Yankee Stadium is the worst for any team that has played at least 30 games in any current major league park.

Cervelli, Nova on DL; Romine, Nuno up from Scranton

There was good news and bad news about the Yankees’ player transactions before Saturday’s game against the Blue Jays. The bad news was that catcher Francisco Cervelli was placed on the 15-day disabled list because of a broken right hand and will be sideline for six weeks. The good news was that although pitcher Ivan Nova was also assigned to the DL his injury (inflammation of the right triceps) is not as serious as had been feared, a possible elbow strain.

So there were two new faces in the Yankees clubhouse. Catcher Austin Romine was recalled from Scranton and pitcher Vidal Nuno had his contract purchased from the Triple A affiliate. To create room on the 40-man roster for Nuno, the Yankees transferred Derek Jeter to the 60-day DL. The Captain is not due back for another three months anyway.

Yankees manager Joe Girardi sounded relieved that the injury to Nova was one that should heal in a short period of time. Nova pointed to a spot above the elbow where he felt tightness while pitching in the early innings of Friday night’s 6-4 Yankees victory over Toronto. He mentioned the stiffness to Girardi and pitching coach Larry Rothschild after the second inning. When Nova hit the first batter he faced in the third and allowed a single to the next, Girardi did not hesitate to remove him and have an MRI done to check out the area.

Nova said the area stiffened up only when he threw curves, but that is his chief weapon, so the Yankees were wise to act quickly on his behalf. David Phelps, who had nine strikeouts in four innings of relief Friday night and earned the winning decision, will take Nova’s spot in the rotation for the time being.

Romine, who was assigned uniform No. 53, was not in the starting lineup as Girardi went with Chris Stewart, who had a good game Friday night by drawing two walks and throwing out two base runners. Romine was kept busy before the game, however, by working with Hiroki Kuroda and Andy Pettitte in bullpen sessions.

“I thought when we had him up here in 2011 that he could be a major-league catcher,” Girardi said. “But he hurt his back last year and missed a lot of time, so we felt he would be better served by playing regularly in the minors rather than being a backup here. He will get a chance to show what he can do.”

Romine batted .333 with one home run and four RBI in 14 games and 42 at-bats at Scranton. Nuno’s arrival gives Girardi a second lefthander out of the bullpen to go along with Boone Logan. Nono, who was assigned No. 34, was also off to a good start at Triple A with a 2-0 record and 1.54 ERA. He allowed 13 hits and only two walks with 26 strikeouts in 23 1/3 innings.

Yanks continue to overcome injuries

The Yankees are certainly going through some severe tests in the early part of the 2013 season. They opened the schedule without their regular shortstop, without their regular third baseman, without their regular first baseman and without their regular center fielder. One of their starting pitchers was also on the disabled list.

Now less than a full month into the season, they have lost their starting catcher and perhaps another starting pitcher. Yankees manager Joe Girardi never identified Francisco Cervelli as the Yankees’ regular catcher, preferring to say that he and Chris Stewart were sharing the position. Yet Cervelli played in twice as many games as Stewart, so you do the math.

Cervelli will be lost to the team for the next six weeks at least because of a fractured right hand that will require surgery, the result of being struck by a Rajai Davis foul ball in the first inning of Friday night’s 6-4 victory over the Blue Jays. That makes Stewart the regular with Triple A Scranton call-up Austin Romine serving as the backup.

“I know it is disappointing for all [Cervelli] has been through,” Girardi said of his catcher who spent most of 2012 in the minors before getting another big-league shot this year. “A lot of times when a catcher gets hit there you end up with a bad bruise. But it must have hit just perfect.”

Ivan Nova has struggled since the start of the season, and now we may know why. He came out of Friday night’s game in the third inning because of a right elbow that is barking. In four starts, Nova had yet to pitch one out into the sixth inning with his ERA an unbecoming 6.48. Opposing hitters are batting .354 in 56 at-bats against Nova, who has allowed 23 hits, eight walks and three hit batters in 16 2/3 innings.

Nova mentioned to Girardi after the second inning that the elbow had stiffened and that he would give it a try to get loose in the third. When it didn’t, Girardi did not hesitate to remove him. After the game, Girardi said that the Yankees would wait until the results of an MRI before deciding how to proceed with his rotation.

David Phelps is the likeliest candidate to take Nova’s place should he go on the disabled list. Phelps got the winning decision Friday with four strong innings that featured nine strikeouts. Mariano Rivera loaded the bases by yielding three singles, but he struck out Colby Rasmus to register his eighth save in eight tries.

The Yankees got a lot of help from Toronto pitchers in winning for the fourth time in five games against the Blue Jays this year. The Yankees had only six hits but took advantage of 10 walks, a hit batter, a wild pitch and a passed ball. Runs scored on the wild pitch and passed ball, which proved to be the margin of difference in the game.

Brett Gardner got a big home run in the eighth inning that created a two-run lead for Rivera to work with in the ninth.

“Guys keep stepping up, just like they did tonight,” Girardi said about the Yankees’ dealing with injuries. “They just keep finding ways. Injuries are part of the game. When you continue to win games, it is very satisfying.”

Cervelli lost for 6 weeks with broken right hand

The worst of Yankees fears was realized Friday night. Francisco Cervelli indeed sustained a right hand fracture when struck by a foul ball off the bat of Rajai Davis in the first inning. The catcher will require surgery and is expected to be sidelined for at least six weeks.

No pun intended, but it was a bad break for Cervelli, who was off to a good start, batting .269 with three home runs and eight RBI in 16 games and 52 at-bats. The Yankees are expected to call up catcher Austin Romine from Triple A Scranton to replace Cervelli on the roster.

The Yankees also announced that pitcher Ivan Nova, who was forced out of the game as well in the third inning, experienced pain in his pitching elbow. The righthander was to undergo an MRI later Friday night.