May 2014

Tanaka on a roll, but Teixeira still hurting

Saturday was one of those good news-bad news days for the Yankees. The good news was that Masahiro Tanaka had another outstanding start in a 3-1 victory over the Twins. The bad news is that Mark Teixeira’s surgical right wrist is not getting any better.

The bad news first because, well, it is a matter of concern. Manager Joe Girardi initiated the premature removal of Teixeira from Saturday’s game when he saw feeble swings from the first baseman in his first two at-bats. Tex stayed in the game three innings more on defense before his turn in the batting order came up again and Girardi sent up Brian Roberts to hit for him.

After the game, Teixeira had a cortisone injection in the wrist in hopes of calming down the inflammation that caused him pain last week and forced Girardi to sit him down for the last three games of the trip. Teixeira got a fourth straight day off Thursday, an open date, before returning to the lineup Friday night.

Teixeira walked three times in that game, so the discomfort he felt was marginal due to his lack of contact. Soreness persisted, however, and worsened when he took batting practice Saturday. He struck out with the bases loaded in the first inning and grounded out to the right side in the third. By then, his wrist was throbbing.

Girardi said after the game that Teixeira will not play Sunday against the Twins and Phil Hughes or in Monday night’s rain-makeup game against the Mariners and see where he stands Tuesday night when the Yankees open a three-game series against the Athletics.

“It’s concerning in the short term,” Girardi said. “We hope the soreness becomes less and less the further he gets away from the surgery.”

“We’re back to square one,” said Teixeira, who noted that Sunday marks 11 months since he had the wrist surgery. “I rested for four days, and it didn’t help. You try to hold off the cortisone shot as long as you can because you can only get two of those a year. It’s what you expect a year after surgery. We’ll see how it reacts to the cortisone. If the shot doesn’t work, then I’ll be worried.”

Teixeira, a notoriously slow starter, was encouraged by his strong showing early in the season. He is battting only .242 but leads the Yankees in home runs with nine and was tied for the club RBI lead until Yangervis Solarte pulled ahead of him Saturday with his 26th on his sixth home run of the season as part of a three-hit day.

Now it is off to another waiting period for Teixeira.

The rest of the clubhouse was upbeat following another gem by Tanaka, who overcame three errors by his teammates to limit Minnesota to one unearned run, four hits and two walks with nine strikeouts in eight innings to improve his record to 8-1. The Yankees are now 16-6 in games started by rookie pitchers this season. David Robertson took over in the ninth and struck out the side for his 12th save.

This was the 11th straight game in which Tanaka has pitched at least six innings and allowed three runs or fewer. Only other one pitcher has done that for a longer stretch: Expos righthander Steve Rogers in his first 16 outings in 1973. Since earned runs became an official statistic in 1913, Tanaka is the first pitcher to produce such an outing
in each of his first 11 games or first 11 starts with the Yankees. The last Yankees pitcher to produce such a start in 10 consecutive games at any point in his career was CC Sabathia, who did so in 16 consecutive games in 2010 from June 3 through Aug. 22.

And the Yankees sure like it when the lights are off. They are 14-5 in day games this year. Over the past four seasons, their record in day games of 122-61 is the best in the major leagues.

Running until you get tagged out

It looked for a while there as if the Yankees may have needed some base running drills. For the second straight game, they ran themselves out of a rally with the trail runner not paying attention to the third base coach, Rob Thompson.

In the sixth inning Saturday with the score 1-1, Brian McCann, who had doubled with one out, was still at second base with two out. Yangervis Solarte singled sharply to right field and rounded first base heading to second in hopes of having the Twins cut the ball off to go after him while McCann scored.

The problem was that Thompson put up the red light on McCann, a slow runner, which meant that Solarte was a dead duck at second base. Too bad for Solarte, who had three hits and got his batting average back over .300. Every times it seems that the eight-year minor league veteran is finding sea level after a torrid start, he gets hot again.

The same thing happened Friday night with of all people in the center of it Derek Jeter. He singled to right field with two out and made the same maneuver while Brett Gardner was being held at third base by Thompson. Gardner tried to bail out Jeter by coming down the line to draw a throw, but he got caught in a rundown and tagged out. Jeter got to third on the play but died there as Jacoby Ellsbury ended the inning with an infield fly ball.

“It’s my job in my situation, if you think there’s a play at the plate, you’ve got to go and try to go to second base to trade an out for a run,” Jeter said after the game. “But I’ve got to make sure he’s going. It’s not my job to think what’s going to happen. I have to know. Good play by them, but I assumed he was going. I shouldn’t assume.”

As it turned out, base running played a pivotal part in the Yankees regaining the lead over the Twins in the eighth inning Saturday. Ellsbury, who singled to center with one out, stole second and continued to third on an errant throw by catcher Josmil Pinto. After Brian Roberts walked, McCann smoked another double on a liner past Joe Mauer at first base and down the right field line to give the Yanks and Masahiro Tanaka a 2-1 lead.

Yanks’ dominance of the Twins fading?

The streak of games in which Yankees starting pitchers allowed three runs or fewer ended at 14 Friday night as Vidal Nuno gave up four runs, all on home runs, by the fourth inning against the Twins in an eventual 6-1 loss.

Vidal gave up a solo home run to Oswaldo Arcia in the second inning. Two innings later, Minnesota went deep twice more on a leadoff blow by Josh Willingham and a two-run shot by Trevor Plouffe that landed in the netting atop Monument Park.

Prior to that, Yankees starters had not allowed more than three runs in a game since May 14, a period covering 83 innings in which they had a combined ERA of 2.82. It was the longest such streak by a Yankees rotation since a 15-gamer in 2009 from June 14 to July 1.

The Yankees at least got some length from Nuno, who lasted two batters into the seventh inning. The long ball has been an issue for the lefthander this year. He has given up nine home runs in 47 2/3 innings.

Curiously, Yankee Stadium has not been kind to Nuno. He is 0-3 with a 5.86 ERA in six career games covering 30 2/3 innings at the Stadium. In five career road starts, Nuno has a 2-0 record with a 1.84 ERA in 29 1/3 innings.

The Yankees failed to generate much of an offense against Twins starter Ricky Nolasco, who entered the game with a 6.12 ERA and winless in five starts since April 24. They scored one run in the third inning on a two-out, RBI double by Jacoby Ellsbury but spent much of the game running themselves out of rallies.

Brian Roberts led off the second inning with a single but was picked off first base and thrown out at second. Brett Gardner, running from second base on a single to right by Derek Jeter in the third, was caught in a rundown between third and the plate and tagged out. In the sixth, Roberts was gunned down again, this time at home trying to score from second base on a two-out single to right by Yangervis Solarte.

The Minnesota lineup included former Yankees infielder Eduardo Nunez as the designated hitter. He had an RBI single off Preston Claiborne in the Twins’ two-run eighth inning. Another former Yankee, pitcher Phil Hughes, will start for the Twins Sunday.

Mark Teixeira returned to the Yankees’ lineup after missing three games because of inflammation in his surgical right wrist and reached base three times on walks but did not advance beyond first base on a quiet night for the Yanks’ offense.

The Yankees’ mastery of the Twins, especially at the Stadium, during this century has faded somewhat. The Yankees have a 31-10 record at the Stadium against Minnesota but are under .500 (6-7) since May 16, 2010. The Yankees won 10 straight home series against the Twins from 2002 through 2011 but lost one series and split the other over the past two seasons. Overall, the Yankee are 26-10 against the Twins since the start of the 2009 season.

Ticket specials available during homestand

After a 5-4 trip to Chicago, both the North and South Sides, and St. Louis, the Yankees returned home Friday night for the first of seven games at Yankee Stadium over the next week. The stretch features a three-game series against the Twins Friday night and Saturday and Sunday afternoons, the makeup of the previously postponed April 30 game against the Mariners Monday night and a three-game set against the Athletics Tuesday and Wednesday nights and Thursday afternoon.

Ticket specials will run Saturday (Youth Game), Monday (MasterCard $5/Military Personnel/Senior Citizen/Student Game), Tuesday (MasterCard $5/Military Personnel Game), Wednesday (MasterCard Half-Price/Military Personnel/Student Game and Thursday (Military Personnel/Senior Citizen Game).

For a complete list of ticket specials, including game dates, seating locations, and terms and conditions, please visit http://www.yankees.com/ticketspecials. All ticket specials are subject to availability.

Saturday, the Yankees will introduce the “Hands on History” program in the New York Yankees Museum presented by Bank of America at the Stadium. The program offers the opportunity for guests to touch historic Yankees artifacts including game-used bats, jerseys, baseballs, World Series rings and more from Yankees legends. Sessions are scheduled to begin approximately 90 minutes before gates open to the public on select home dates. For more information, please visit http://www.yankees.com/handsonhistory. Tickets are sold on a first-come, first-served basis. Admission to the game is not included.

The homestand will also feature the following promotional items and dates:

Friday, May 30 – Yankees vs. Twins, 7:05 p.m.

Yankees Reusable Tote Night, presented by MLB Network, to all guests.

Saturday, May 31 – Yankees vs. Twins, 1:05 p.m.

Yankees Ice Cream Bowls Day, presented by Turkey Hill, to first 18,000 guests, 14 and younger.

Sunday, June 1 – Yankees vs. Twins, 1:05 p.m.

Yankees Bat Day, presented by Bank of America, to first 10,000 guests, 14 and younger.

Tuesday, June 3 – Yankees vs. Athletics, 7:05 p.m.

Yankees Collectible Cup Night, presented by Premio Foods, to first 25,000 guests.

Thursday, June 5 – Yankees vs. Athletics, 1:05 p.m.

Yankees Travel Mug Day, presented by WFAN, to first 18,000 guests.

Tickets may be purchased online at http://www.yankees.com, http://www.yankeesbeisbol.com, at the Yankee Stadium Ticket Office, via Ticketmaster phone at 877-469-9849, Ticketmaster TTY at 800-943-4327 and at all Ticket Offices located within Yankees Clubhouse Shops. Tickets may also be purchased on Yankees Ticket Exchange at http://www.yankees.com/yte, the only official online resale marketplace for Yankees fans to purchase and resell tickets to Yankees games. Fans with questions should call 212-926-5337 or email tickets@yankees.com.

Makeshift lineup comes through for Kuroda

That was as makeshift a lineup as Yankees manager Joe Girardi has formulated all season in Wednesday night’s finale of the trip through Chicago and St. Louis. Regular catcher Brian McCann made his first major-league start at first base with backup catcher John Ryan Murphy batting fifth in the order.

With Mark Teixeira still bothered by an inflamed right wrist and Derek Jeter and Yangervis Solarte needing some time off, the Yankees’ alignment had a decidedly different look. Solarte has shown signs of weariness while in a 0-for-14 slump, so Girardi needed Kelly Johnson to play third base. Johnson had been playing first base during Teixeira’s absence. The other backup first baseman Girardi has used is Brendan Ryan, but he had to start at shortstop for Jeter, who played all but one inning of the previous eight games on the trip, three of which went into extras.

And with Alfonso Soriano on the bench, once again the Yankees’ lineup was not overloaded with power.

So what happened? All those singles the somewhat soft batting order put together against a tough pitcher, St. Louis starter Shelby Miller, constructed a 7-0 lead by the fourth inning and went on to a 7-4 victory that made it a 5-4 trip, not bad when you consider that the Yanks were 1-3 at one point.

Miller’s Achilles heel is the base on balls (30 in 56 2/3 innings entering the game), which was a factor as well. He walked only two batters, but both came in the third to fuel a rally. Singles by Brian Roberts and Jacoby Ellsbury following a walk to Brett Gardner created the first run. After Miller walked McCann to load the bases, Murphy singled to center for two more runs. The third run scored when Ichiro Suzuki beat the relay to first base to avoid a double play.

The Yankees struck for three more runs the next inning after two were out. Two runners came home on a single by Ellsbury, who had three hits, three RBI and two stolen bases in the game and seems to be back on track. McCann made it 7-0 with a single.

Hiroki Kuroda, who last year suffered from lack of offensive support from his teammates, welcomed the huge lead. The righthander was touched for nine hits in 5 2/3 innings but no walks and left with the Yankees ahead, 7-3.

Dellin Betances continued his effective relief by getting a key out in the sixth when the Cardinals threatened to tighten the score. St. Louis had a run in and runners on first and third with two out in the sixth when Betances was summoned to face Matt Holliday, who ended the threat with a flyout to left.

That was the extent of Betances’ work Wednesday night and did not include a strikeout, which has been a specialty of the rookie this season. Betances leads all major league relievers with 51 strikeouts among the 92 outs he has recorded. The hard-throwing righthander is holding batters to a .143 average in 105 at-bats. He has struck out multiple batters in 18 of his 20 appearances this season in which he has faced at least two batters, including 11 straight from April 11 to May 10.

Girardi brought in David Robertson for the final four outs. Things got a bit dicey when Robertson gave up an RBI single to Kolten Wong, his fourth hit, in the eighth and put the first two batters on base in the ninth. But D-Rob rebounded to strike out the side and preserve Kuroda’s first road victory since July 25 last year in 12 starts. He had been 0-7 away from Yankee Stadium since then.

The Yankees finished with 12 hits. Joining Ellsbury in the parade were Roberts, McCann, Ryan and Johnson with two apiece. All the hits were singles except for Roberts’ fourth-inning double. The Yanks were able to put enough singles together to end the trip on a positive note.

Gloves & bats come up empty for Yanks

David Phelps deserved a better fate Tuesday night. Pitching in front of some 25 friends and relatives in his hometown of St. Louis among the crowd of 45,202 at Busch Stadium, Phelps made a decent if not entirely satisfactory showing, but his teammates let him down with both their bats and their gloves.

The crippling inning for Phelps and the Yankees was the third when the Cardinals scored four runs in what might have been a shutout frame except for a head-scratching infield over-shift and two errors.

The inning began with the Yankees’ infield shifted to the right side against Matt Carpenter, who led the National League in hits last year with 199 and as a leadoff hitter would be looking for any way to get on. He found it, too, by hitting a routine grounder to the hole at shortstop and ending up with a single.

Phelps made a nice play snaring a bunt by Kolten Wong that would be the best fielding play for the Yanks that inning. Matt Holliday singled Carpenter to third before Matt Adams drove in the first run of the game with a ground-rule double. That should have been the only run of the inning, but three more crossed due to a couple of errors.

Kelly Johnson playing first base with Mark Teixeira still out with an inflamed right wrist dropped the ball while trying to tag Allen Craig in the baseline for an error that allowed one run to score. Jhonny Peralta followed with a roller to second that was overrun by Brian Roberts for another error as two more runners crossed the plate. Roberts made the age-old mistake of taking his eye off the ball as he tried to position himself to tag the runner and throw to first for a double play.

It was early enough in the game for the Yankees not to panic at falling behind, 4-0, but they failed to mount any attack on Cards starter Lance Lynn, who pitched his first complete-game shutout, a 6-0 five-hitter. The Yankees got only one runner as far as third base and were 0-for-9 with runners in scoring position. St. Louis added home runs by Craig in the fifth off Phelps and by Holliday in the seventh off Alfredo Aceves.

Lynn was not overpowering. He had only two strikeouts, but he got 18 outs in the infield as the Yankees were shut out for only the second time this season.

Jeter leading at SS in All-Star voting

Derek Jeter had to skip the All-Star Game last year at Citi Field because he was recovering from left ankle surgery. He may get back to the Midsummer Classic this year at Target Field in Minneapolis.

The first American League All-Start voting results were released Tuesday, and there was the Captain in his usual spot leading all shortstops in the balloting. Jeter had 602,525 votes in taking the lead at his position over the White Sox’ Alexei Ramirez, who had 472,537.

Jeter’s total was the third highest overall in the Al voting behind only outfielders Mike Trout (764,007) of the Angels and Jose Bautista (675,290) of the Blue Jays. The third outfielder in the balloting was the Yankees’ Jacoby Ellsbury with 417,452. Right behind him was teammate Carlos Beltran, currently on the disabled list, with 401,101.

No other Yankees player is leading at his position, but Brian McCann is the runner-up at catcher behind the Orioles’ Matt Wieters. Alfonso Soriano ranks fourth among designated hitters, Mark Teixeira fifth among first baseman and Brett Gardner 11th among outfielders.

“I would love to see it,” Yankees manager Joe Girardi said about Jeter making the All-Star team. “I think he has played extremely well. I know the young man Ramirez has played extremely well. I understand [Jeter] is third overall in votes and that is a great thing. He has meant a ton to this game.”

Jeter, a 13-time All-Star playing in his final season, entered play Tuesday night batting .273 with one home run and 10 RBIs. Ramirez has the stronger numbers at .320, seven homers and 36 RBI.

DJ is going to need the support of Yankees fans to maintain his lead, but as the standing ovations he has received throughout the major leagues on his farewell tour attests he may get plenty of support outside New York as well.

Beating an NL team at its own game

With a starting lineup Monday that was minus Alfonso Soriano, Mark Teixeira and Carlos Beltran, the Yankees did not appear all that powerful. They were in a National League park in St. Louis and were going to need some NL-style small ball to get runs.

And that is just what they did in pulling off a 6-4, 12-inning victory over the Cardinals in what has been a turnaround trip for them. After losing three of the first four games on the swing through the Midwest, the Yankees have won three in a row to keep pace with the red-hot Blue Jays, who have a two-game lead in the American League East.

The Yankees got a run in the first inning on a walk and two singles, the same combination plus a sacrifice fly that gave them two runs in the fifth.

Not surprisingly considering Monday’s batting order, all seven of the Yankees’ hits were singles. They went one six-inning stretch with just one hit. They got another decent start from Triple A call-up Chase Whitley, who wilted in the sixth inning, however, and loaded the bases with none out. The Cardinals pushed two runs across to make the score 3-3, which it remained until the 12th.

Strong relief work by Preston Claiborne, Matt Thornton, Dellin Betances and Alfredo Aceves accounted for six shutout innings. Aceves was saved from possible disaster in the 11th on Brett Gardner’s leaping catch at the top of the left field wall to haul down a drive by Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina.

The St. Louis bullpen did a nice job as well after Michael Wacha left after a sturdy seven-inning stint until Randy Choate took the mound. The former Yankees lefthander gave up a leadoff walk to Jacoby Ellsbury, who stole second base, and hit Brian McCann with a 1-2 pitch.

The Yankees played some NL ball with Yangervis Solarte dropping his first major-league sacrifice bunt down to advance the runners. Cardinals manager Mike Matheny decided to put Ichiro Suzuki on with an intentional walk to load the bases, a strategy that backfired when Brian Roberts singled to left to break the tie. A sacrifice fly by Soriano pinch hitting and a clutch, two-out single by Brendan Ryan brought in two more runs, a nice cushion for David Robertson, who was touched for an unearned run due to an errant throw by Derek Jeter and earned his 11th save.

It marked the 12th straight game that Yankees starters have given up three runs or fewer. The rotation has a 2.52 ERA during that stretch. Whitley still does not have a decision, but in three starts the righthander has allowed only four earned runs in 14 innings (2.57 ERA).

Until Teixeira can swing freely with that tricky right wrist of his and Beltran gets back from the disabled list, this is the kind of offense the Yankees will have, needing to scratch for runs one at a time. It worked on Memorial Day.

Gifts piling up for DJ; so are hits

Derek Jeter’s farewell tour moved on to St. Louis Monday, the day after he was feted by the White Sox in Chicago and paid them for their tribute with a four-hit, two-RBI performance in the Yankees’ 7-1 victory behind Masahiro Tanaka, who shook off his first loss of the season last Tuesday night at Wrigley Field and improved his record to 7-1.

Jeter received a bench made of bats and balls from the White Sox, who also donated $5,000 to his Turn 2 Foundation. But the Cardinals came up with a really cool gift along with doubling the White Sox’ total as a foundation donation. With Hall of Famers Ozzie Smith and Red Schoendienst part of the ceremony with club owner Bill DeWitt, Jeter was presented with cuff links that bore the image of Stan Musial and his No. 6.

Just as he did Sunday, Jeter got a single in his first at-bat. It pushed Brett Gardner, who led off with a walk, into scoring position. Jacoby Ellsbury got Gardner home with a single as well.

The Yankees’ visit to St. Louis, their first since 2005, was to have included a return to Busch Stadium for Carlos Beltran, who was a key figure on the Cardinals team last year that reached its 19th World Series, second only to the Yankees’ 40. The Cardinals have won the most World Series for a National League club with 11, far behind the Yankees’ all-time mark of 27.

Beltran is on the 15-day disabled list because of bone spurs in his right elbow. He took some dry swings with a fungo bat and had no setbacks but is a while away from taking regular batting practice.

The Yankees were also without Mark Teixeira, who was a late scratch from the lineup due to stiffness in his surgical right wrist. Tex told manager Joe Girardi that the wrist tightened up during the 13-inning game at Wrigley Field last week. The Yankees are hopeful a day off will tone it down and allow Teixeira to get back into the lineup Tuesday night.

In their victories Wednesday at Wrigley Field and Saturday at U.S. Cellular Field, the Yankees came back from 2-0 and 3-0 ninth-inning deficits, respectively. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the last time the Yankees won two games when facing multiple-run deficits in the ninth-inning or later on one road trip was July 1994, when they won back-to-back games at Seattle’s Kingdome and ended the 11-game West Coast trip with another such victory at Anaheim Stadium, now Angel Stadium of Anaheim.

D-Rob & Yanks come off the deck

If there is one thing David Robertson learned from Mariano Rivera about the closer’s role it is that you cannot dwell on blown saves. They are a hazard of the profession and while fans will agonize over squandered saves the closer cannot. It is a job like housekeeping in that people do not notice it as much unless you do not do it.

The daily grind of the baseball schedule demands that players turn the page, particularly closers. Like his predecessor, Robertson wanted another save opportunity the very next day after he gave up a game-winning, two-run home run to White Sox first baseman Adam Dunn in the bottom of the ninth inning Friday night. D-Rob got that chance Saturday after the Yankees came off the deck and scored three runs in the ninth inning against Chicago to tie the score and went ahead in the 10th on a home run by Jacoby Ellsbury with two out.

Robertson preserved the Yankees’ lead this time as he has done now in 10 of 11 save chances. He struck out the side. The third strikeout came after pesky Adam Eaton (8-for-14 in the series) singled with two out and stole second. So getting Gordon Beckham looking to end the game was a pressurized situation for Robertson.

This was a game the Yankees needed desperately. For the second straight day, the club that took a 3-0 lead in the first inning did not go on to win. The Yankees had the first-inning lead Friday night on Brian McCann’s three-run homer, but Hiroki Kuroda couldn’t hold it. The Yanks went in front again by a run with two runs in the seventh, but Robertson’s blown save cost them.

Saturday, the White Sox scored three runs in the first off Vidal Nuno, who tightened after that and pitched into the eighth without allowing another run. Yankees bats remained cold, however, as they had only one hit through seven innings and three through eight against lefthander John Danks. Now it would be the White Sox closer who would blow the save.

With two out and a runner on first base, the Yanks erupted for three runs off righthander Ronald Belisario, who nearly blew a save to them two nights ago when he gave up two runs in the ninth but held on to nail down a 3-2 White Sox victory. A double by Alfonso Soriano got one run in, and singles by Yangervis Solarte and McCann as a pinch hitter delivered two more. It marked the second time on the Chicago trip that the Yankees tied the score in the ninth after being shut out for eight innings and went on to win in extras. They came from behind to beat the Cubs, 4-2, in 13 innings Wednesday at Wrigley Field.

Ellsbury, who had started the ninth-inning rally with a single, came through with the 10th-inning homer off righthander Zach Putnam. Ellsbury looked as if he might be coming out of a prolonged slump with a couple of extra-inning hits at Wrigley, but he then went 0-for-11 at U.S. Cellular Field before his ninth-inning single. The center fielder was batting .348 as late as May 3 but is now down to .263. Maybe the game-winning homer is just what he needs to get hot again.

It certainly was what the Yankees needed on what was turning into a brutal trip. Now they have a shot at squaring the season Sunday behind Masahiro Tanaka and take some momentum into St. Louis Monday for the start of what will be their last inter-league series of the regular season.