Preview of the Yankees vs. Red Sox series at Fenway Park


David Robertson being interviewed on the YES network.

David Robertson being interviewed on the YES network.

The Yankees start a three-game mid week series against the Boston Red Sox Tuesday night at 7:10 p.m at Fenway Park. In the four-game series against the Red Sox at Yankee Stadium from April 10-13 the Yankees won three of the four games against their long time rivals.

Joe Girardi’s team will come into the series with momentum as they have won six of their last eight games. The one major setback is that it appears that starter Ivan Nova will have season ending Tommy John surgery based on elbow soreness that he had during the the fifth innings of the team’s 16-1 loss to Tampa. He will need Tommy John surgery as a result of a partially torn ulnar collateral ligament. The 11-8 record that the Yankees have is a game better than the surprising second place Toronto Blue Jays.

John Farrell’s team, on the other hand, will come  into the series as a mediocre team that has been hurt by injuries to third baseman Will Middlebrooks and outfieleder Shane Victorino. Boston (9-11) split their four-game weekend series against the Baltimore Orioles and lost all three games that the played against the Milwaukee Brewers from April 4-6. The Seattle Mariners and Houston Astros are the only teams in the AL with a worse record than the Red Sox so far.

In Tuesday’s game, Masahiro Tanaka will start his first game at the historic Fenway Park. His 2.05 ERA and 28:2 strikeout to walk ratio are both outstanding and he has pitched a combined 22 innings in his first three Major League starts. He is coming off a start where he shutout the Chicago Cubs for eight innings while striking out 10 and only walking one. His splitter, which keeps hitters off balance, has definitely lived up to expectations so far this season.

I’m sure the fans will be heated up a bit and it should be a good experience going up on the mound that day,” Tanaka said, when asked about the atmosphere at Fenway.

Jon Lester, who has been the best starter so far for Boston, will get the start for the Red Sox. He has a 2.17 ERA this season and like Tanaka, his 29:4 strikeout to walk ratio is impressive. However, factors that could help the Yankees are that he has a 4.57 ERA in his last three seasons against New York and a 4.46 ERA at home but a much better 3.67 ERA on the road.

On Wednesday’s game, the 25-year-old Michael Pineda will start for the Yankees and he will be opposed by the veteran John Lackey. Pineda’s ability to command his fastball, slider and changeup has led to his 2-1 record and 1.00 ERA in three starts. Lackey has allowed six runs in each of his last two starts, which gives him an unimpressive 5.25 ERA.

For the series finale on Thursday, CC Sabathia (2-2, 5.19 ERA), who is coming off his best start of the season where he allowed just one run earned run in seven innings pitched against the Tampa Bay Rays, will get the start for the Yankees. He had a 6.48 ERA against the Red Sox from 2011 to 2013. Felix Doubront (4-4, 5.48 ERA) will get the start after allowing three runs in 6.2 innings in his start against the Yankees on April 13.

Two positive signs on the injury front for the Yankees are that first baseman Mark Teixeira returned from the disabled list on Sunday, and went 2-6, while closer David Robertson is scheduled to return from his 15-day DL in time for Tuesday’s game. This will help the bullpen as it will give it more depth and it will allow Girardi to find consistent roles for Shawn Kelley, Adam Warren, Dellin Betances, Matt Thornton and David Phelps.

The Yankees lost to the Rays 16-1 on Saturday for their second lopsided loss in a row


Infielder Dean Anna pitching against the Rays

Infielder Dean Anna pitching against the Rays

The Yankees lost to the Tampa Bay Rays 16-1 at Tropicana Field as nothing went well for the team. In Friday and Saturday’s game the pitching staff combined to allow an unacceptable 27 runs to a Rays offense that was previously struggling.

Dean Anna, who is a natural shortstop, and had previously played in seven games at shortstop and three at second, ended up pitching in this game as a last resort to not have to use a normal member of the bullpen in a blowout. He was instructed by manager Joe Girardi to just play catch, and not throw hard, so that he would not hurt his arm.

Anna ended up allowing two runs in the eighth inning. Anna knew that since he was in the game it was not memorable day for the Yankees. “When you see me in there, it’s not a good day for us.

Ivan Nova’s curveball was not working as he allowed eight runs in four innings and had to leave after he gave up a single and a double to start the fifth because of right elbow soreness. In Nova’s four innings, he allowed four homers, including two to the light hitting Ryan Hanigan (who hit two all of last season), eight hits, four strikeouts and only threw first-pitch strikes to 12 of the 21 batters he faced.

It is not known if he will be able to make his next scheduled start because he had an MRI on his right elbow after the game. The Yankees need him to return to the way he pitched the second-half of last season because he has the ability to greatly help the pitching staff.

However, so far this season he is pitching like he might need to return to AAA Scranton to find his dominating form. In his first start, where he managed to allow only two runs, he gave up six hits and five walks and was lucky to come away with the win. In the game against Tampa on Saturday and his second start of the season he combined to allow 15 runs, 18 hits and only pitch 7.2 innings.

The Yankees need Nova to find his form that allowed him to be the best starter on the staff in the second half of last season because they don’t have a pitcher in AAA waiting to take his spot. Vidal Nuno, who is getting a spot start on Sunday, would likely be the one to take his spot in the rotation if he goes on the disabled list.

Matt Daley, who was just called up before the game to replace the ineffective Cesar Cabral, looked like he didn’t belong as he allowed six runs (four earned runs), five hits and one homer. After Daley intentionally walked James Loney, he allowed Wil Myers’s second homer of the game to make the score 10-1. Daley was taken out of the game after he allowed four consecutive batters to reach base in the sixth.

Dellin Betances, who was pitching in his first game since Thursday, allowed Delay’s inherited runners to score and then retired the side in order in the eighth inning. He was the only bright spot for the Yankees and he even could have been better since he walked two batters in the seventh, but his ERA still sits at a perfect 0.00.

The four Yankees pitchers allowed six Rays hitters to record two or more hits. Longoria, whose 164th home run put him one beyond Carlos Pena for most in the history of the franchise, continued to own Yankees pitching. He was 2-3, scored two runs and drove in four. He is hitting 7-10 in the first three games of the series and in his past three seasons against the Yankees he is hitting .320 with 16 homers. That is his highest batting average against any team.

Kelly Johnson was the only Yankee who made any impact offensively as his double to deep left center in the fifth scored Alfonso Soriano. Chris Archer, who is in his second season, has been outstanding against the Yankees. Including Saturday’ start, he has a 1.26 ERA against New York and is the first Tampa pitcher to win four straight starts against the Yankees.

Nuno, who is in his second season with the Yankees, will try to get the Yankees to split the series against the Rays. He had an excellent 2.25 ERA last season, which included three starts and two relief appearances. In his start at Tropicana Field last season he limited Tampa Bay to only two runs in six innings.

The Yankees hope that he can have similar production in the series finale and that the offense will be able to come to life against Cesar Ramos, who has a 7.50 ERA pitching in the bullpen this season. Mark Teixeira should help the offense as he is scheduled to return from the DL and play in Sunday’s afternoon game. He is 2 for 6 with a double in his career against Ramos.

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UPDATE: Ivan Nova has been put on the 15-day disabled list with a right ulnar collateral ligament injury, Scott Sizemore has been optioned to AAA Scranton and Daley has been designated for assignment. Delay is the second player who has been designated for assignment in the span of two days. Mark Teixeira has been reinstated from the disabled list, Preston Claiborne has been recalled from AAA Scranton and Brian Mitchell has been brought up from AA Trenton. Mitchell will likely only be with the team for a few days.

Pineda’s six shutout innings helped the Yankees win the nightcap against the Cubs


Michael Pineda

Michael Pineda

Michael Pineda pitched his first game after the “pine tar/dirt” incident against the Red Sox, and he led the Yankees to a 2-0 win in the nightcap of the doubleheader. In six shutout innings, Pineda allowed four hits, had three big strikeouts and only one walk.

“Today is hard because it was cold, but today my changeup was working, and I am happy about that,” Pineda said.

The inning that Pineda showed the most poise and resilience was in the fifth. Starlin Castro and Luis Valbuena both singled and advanced to second and third, but Pineda was able to retire Ryan Kalish via strikeout and Darwin Barney via fly out to prevent any damage.

Pineda, who is in his first season pitching after two injury-filled campaigns after being acquired from the Seattle Mariners, is pitching like when he was an All-Star as a rookie for the Mariners. After three starts, he has pitched 18 innings, has 15 strikeouts to only three walks, and a 1.00 ERA.

In the first game of the doubleheader, Masahiro Tanaka’s eight dominating innings helped the Yankees win 3-0. His splitter was working as he struck out 10 batters and only allowed two hits (both bunts) and a walk.

The last time the Yankees shutout both games of a doubleheader was in 1987 against the Royals, which proves this is a rare yet impressive feat.

“It just goes to show you how well our pitchers threw today,” manager Joe Girardi said. “When you can shut the other team down for 18 innings it shows you are doing something right.”

Yangervis Solarte, who came into the game tied for the league lead in doubles, was not able to drive Carlos Beltran home from third after he hustled to second after his grounder deflected off of Starlin Castro’s glove in the first.

In the bottom of the third, Derek Jeter, who missed the previous three games due to a tight quad, was stranded at second after his routine grounder went right under Darwin Bailey’s glove for an error.

The Yankees finally came through with runners in scoring position in the fourth. With Scott Sizemore on third, after recording his first hit as a Yankee, Brett Gardner (.283) hit a single past Anthony Rizzo at first that sent him home.

For Sizemore’s first RBI as Yankee he drove in Alfonso Soriano with a shallow two-out hit to left. Sizemore, who was out of baseball due to injuries the last two seasons, went 2-3. After Soriano’s two hits he is now hitting .300 in his past five games.

The bullpen only allowed two hits in three innings. Adam Warren picked up his first career save. Shawn Kelley was not available since his 22 pitches helped him record the save in Game 1.

Every player wore No. 42 in honor of Jackie Robinson Day, and before the second game the Yankees dedicated a plaque in Monument Park to honor the late Nelson Mandela.

The Yankees, who have now won four games in a row, will have momentum when they play in Tropicana Field against the 7-8 Rays on Thursday.

Today’s game will be played at 1:05 p.m on Wednesday as part of a day-night doubleheader


Scott Sizemore hitting during spring training.

Scott Sizemore hitting during spring training.

Today’s scheduled game at 7:05 p.m. against the Chicago Cubs has been rescheduled for Wednesday at 1:05 p.m due to rain that is expected throughout the day. There will be a separate-admission, day-night doubleheader tomorrow and tomorrow’s originally scheduled game will begin at 7:05 p.m. The Yankees will honor the legacies of Jackie Robinson and Nelson Mandela at 4:30 p.m. tomorrow.

The Cubs, who last won the World Series in 1908, have previously played at Yankee Stadium during the World Series in 1932 and 1938, which the Yankees won, as well as a three-game sweep by the Yankees during interleague play in 2005. The Cubs have never beaten the Yankees at Yankee Stadium.

Entering this series, the Yankees will have a record of 7-6 after winning three of their four games against the Red Sox, and the Cubs will come into the series in last place in the NL Central with a 4-8 record. They have been in rebuilding mode the last few years while waiting for top prospects Javier Baez and Kris Bryant to be ready.

As a result of Francisco Cervelli being placed on the 60-day disabled list after he suffered a Grade 2 hamstring strain while running to first during Sunday’s win over Boston, the Yankees have brought up Scott Sizemore from AAA Scranton. Sizemore, who can play second and third and has previously played for the Detroit Tigers and Oakland Athletics, was hitting .344 in 10 games at AAA. It makes sense bringing up another infielder because there is only so much Yangervis Solarte and Dean Anna can play. The Yankees have also recalled John Ryan Murphy to have another backup catcher with Cervelli out.

Masahiro Tanaka will pitch the 1:05 p.m game tomorrow and he will be pitching against a weaker offense than the one he saw during his first game at Yankee Stadium last Wednesday. He was able to limit the Baltimore Orioles to three runs in seven innings. Also, so far this season, Tanaka has the best strikeout-walk ratio in baseball. He has 18 strikeouts to only one walk. That is a great sign for future success.

Michael Pineda will pitch the night game and he will look to prove that he can pitch just as well after the pine tar/dirt situation from his last start. He pitched very well against the Blue Jays, in his first start for the Yankees at Yankee Stadium, as he allowed only one run in six innings.

Jason Hammel, who has a 2.65 ERA in three starts at the new Yankee Stadium, will pitch the first game tomorrow for the Cubs. Travis Wood comes into tomorrow night’s contest with a 2.92 ERA and has not pitched at Yankee Stadium in his career.

Pineda and Tanaka could prove to be the best starters on the pitching staff by the end of the season based on their youth and what they have shown so far. It is important that the Yankees win these two games against an inferior team. Today’s off day also gives Derek Jeter another day to rest and recover from his quad tightness.

 

Five homers and solid pitching by the bullpen helped the Yankees defeat the Red Sox


Brian McCann at his press conference at Yankee Stadium in December.

Brian McCann at his press conference at Yankee Stadium in December.

The Yankees evened up their record at 6-6 after Saturday afternoon’s 7-4 win over the Boston Red Sox. This was their second win in three games against Boston.

Hiroki Kuroda picked up his second win of the season after allowing four earned runs in 6.1 innings. He would have only been charged with two earned runs but Jackie Bradley Jr. and Daniel Nava scored on Mike Carp’s single after Matt Thornton came into the game.

Before being taken out of the game, Kuroda had five strikeouts and three walks and allowed a two-run homer to A.J. Pierzynski in the second. It wasn’t his strongest game, but Kuroda was able to impressively get out of trouble in the first, fourth and fifth innings.

The main takeaway from this game was that the offense truly came to life as all seven of their runs were scored via five homers. The Yankees lived up to their Bronx Bombers nickname. Their five homers were nearly as many as they had hit in their previous 11 games combined (seven homers). They had seven before today, but the Yankees now have hit a total of 12 homers.

They were led by Brian McCann, who smashed his first two homers as a Yankee. Carlos Beltran’s second homer of the season, in the first inning, drove in Jacoby Ellsbury. Alfonso Soriano, who now has nine hits in his last 22 at-bats, hit his second homer in the last two games and third of the season. To close out the team’s scoring, Kelly Johnson, who is playing first for the first time in his career as a result of Mark Teixeira’s injury, hit his third homer of the season in the eighth inning. McCann and Soriano hit back-to-back homers in the fourth off of Red Sox starter John Lackey.

Except for Thornton, who allowed Kuroda’s inherited runners to score, the bullpen’s execution was flawless. Dellin Betances pitched to one batter but was not credited with recording an out as a result of McCann throwing out Carp, who was trying to steal second. Adam Warren, who has been pitching with better command and increased velocity out of the bullpen than he did as a starter, and Shawn Kelley combined for two perfect innings. Kelley rebounded well from getting the loss against the Orioles on Wednesday, after allowing two runs, to retire the side in order on 14 pitches.

David Robertson, should be able to return from the disabled list on April 22, which is the day he is eligible to return, but their bullpen should be in good enough shape until then based on the overall effectiveness of Kelley, Warren and Betances.

Except for his shaky outing on Wednesday, Kelley has only allowed one hit in five other appearances. The New York native Betances, who was previously a top starting pitching prospect before flaming out and switching to the bullpen, has struck out eight batters while allowing one hit and zero runs in 4.1 innings. Warren is on a real hot streak as he has allowed zero runs and only two hits in five innings this season (six appearances), and he ended last season not allowing a run in his last 6.2 innings.

The effectiveness of those three relievers could potentially make the bullpen an imposing one after the return of Robertson because they can that fit into defined ninth, eighth and seventh innings roles. Another positive sign is that based on the lineup that the Yankees have, combined with the eventual return of Teixeira, the Yankees should see many more games the rest of the season like Saturday’s with multiple homers than ones with no homers like earlier in the season.

Ivan Nova will get the start for the Yankees on Sunday night and the left-hander Felix Doubront will start for Boston. They both struggled in the previous start. Doubront allowed five runs in 2.2 innings pitched and Nova allowed seven runs in 3.2 innings pitched. Nova will look to regain his form from July, August and September of last season when he located his pitches and ERAs of 2.03, 2.08 and 3.90.

Pineda resembled his All-Star form from 2011 in his first start at Yankee Stadium


Michael Pineda

Michael Pineda

The Yankees beat the Red Sox 4-1 on Thursday night as Michael Pineda’s six near flawless innings led to a win in their first of 19 games against Boston. In Pineda’s rookie season with the Seattle Mariners he was an All-Star, and if he keeps pitching the way he has in his first two starts, he could be an All-Star this season as well.

In 6+ innings (he pitched to one batter in the seventh while not recording an out), Pineda had seven strikeouts, only two walks, four hits and a homer to right fielder Daniel Nava. He threw 94 pitches and an impressive 63 of those were strikes. David Oritz hit a double to deep center in the fifth with two outs but Pineda was able to get out the dangerous Mike Napoli to end the inning and prevent a run from scoring.

The issue concerning Pineda during the game was that TV commentators said that there was allegedly pine tar on his hand during the third inning. The Red Sox apparently didn’t think so because they never sent anyone to protest or argue. After the game, Pineda said that it was dirt on his hand. “Between the innings, I’m sweating too much on my hand. I’m putting dirt on it,” Pineda said. This should not be a controversy since neither the umpires nor the Red Sox made a big deal of it.

It was obvious that the fans appreciated Pineda’s pitching because he received a long and loud standing ovation once Joe Girardi took him out of the game. He will be an important pitcher in their rotation and could give the team a No. 2 quality starter at the back of their rotation. Pineda is in his first year actually playing on the team since after being acquired after the 2011 season for Jesus Montero, he was injured for the next two seasons as a result of tendinitis in his right shoulder and an anterior labral tear in the same shoulder.

Dean Anna, Brian McCann, Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran, who are all in their firsts seasons playing for the Yankees, all stepped up on offense. Ellsbury reached first to leadoff the fourth since his speed caused Jonathan Harrera’s error at third. Beltran then singled to advance Ellsbury to second. McCann’s single to right scored Ellsbury for the first run of the game. The second run was scored after Beltran scored on Soriano’s double play. Luckily, this double play did not come back to hurt the team.

The Yankees added two more runs in the fifth inning. Dean Anna, who was acquired as a minor league free agent in the offseason after hitting .331 in the Pacific Coast League, hit an unexpected deep homer to right field. This was the first major league home run for the 27-year-old infielder. The double that Derek Jeter hit two batters later was his 3,325th hit of his career. He needs 94 hits to catch Carl Yastrzemski for eighth place. Ellsbury, who was playing his first game against his former team, hit a single that scored Jeter for the team’s fourth run.

The bullpen, which didn’t perform well in the loss to the Orioles on Wednesday, pitched three innings while not allowing a hit. Cesar Cabral, who was called up to replace David Robertson, struck out the only two batters that he faced. David Phelps, who pitched the final 2.1 innings, recorded the first save of more than two innings in many years.

It was a positive sign that Pineda pitched well in his Yankee Stadium debut because some pitchers have under performed pitching in the Bronx for the first time. It is also an improvement that the team only left two runners on base.

There were surprisingly many fans who left this Yankees vs. Red Sox game early. This likely will not happen as much once the weather gets warmer.

The Yankees will try to make it a two-game winning streak when they play the Red Sox at 7:05 p.m. on Friday. CC Sabathia, who pitched better in his second start than his Opening Day one, will pitch for the Yankees, and Jon Lester will get the start for the Red Sox. The Yankees will try and produce more offense than normal against Lester since the last two times they have faced him Lester has pitched eight innings.

Yankee Stadium in the middle of Thursday's game.

Yankee Stadium in the middle of Thursday’s game.

 

Davis’s sac fly in the ninth off of Shawn Kelley overshadowed Tanaka’s solid first start at Yankee Stadium


Shawn Kelley pitching for the Yankees last season.

Shawn Kelley pitching for the Yankees last season.

Shawn Kelley‘s two earned runs in the ninth inning came after Masahiro Tanaka’s seven strong innings in his first start at Yankee Stadium. The Yankees lost 5-4  as result of going 1-6 with runners in scoring position and grounding into two double plays.

The Yankees continued their pattern of not hitting well with runners in scoring position to begin the season. With the offense that the Yankees have, even though Mark Teixeira is injured, they should be able to win games when the starter allows three runs. However, Brian McCann and Jacoby Ellsbury both went 0-4, McCann grounded into a double play and Yangervis Solarte’s double play ended the game.

In the second inning, Carlos Beltran hit his first homer as a Yankee, and after Miguel Gonzalez retired McCann and Alfonso Soriano, Kelly Johnson hit his second homer as a Yankee, to make the score 3-2. The Yankees scored a run in the fourth, but based on Beltran hitting a double to right to leadoff the inning, they should have scored at least two. There were no hits after the double, and Beltran scored as a result of a groundout to the shortstop by Soriano.

Once again, in the eighth inning, Brett Gardner hit a double to leadoff the inning, but the Yankees were unable get a hit to drive him home. After Gardner was sacrificed to third by Derek Jeter, McCann and Ellsbury both were not able to get a clutch hit.

Tanaka gave the Yankees all they could have asked for in his pressure-filled first start at home. After allowing a three-run homer to Jonathan Schoop in the second, Tanaka only allowed three hits in the next five innings. In seven innings pitched, the 25-year-old had an impressive 10 strikeouts, seven hits and only one walk. It is a positive sign that Tanaka was able to rebound from a rocky beginning of the game in front of the home fans just like he did in Toronto.

Kelley, who is the closer with David Robertson on the 15-day disabled list, allowed two runs and four hits in the ninth. He came in with the score tied at three, but in the non-save situation, Chris Davis’s sacrifice fly that scored Schoop ended up being the game winner.

The Yankees scored a run in the ninth off of a sac fly, but they had a chance to tie or win the game, but Solarte, who has been a revelation so far, could not come through with a clutch hit when the team needed one.

It would make sense to have Matt Thornton pitch in the ninth inning with Robertson out because Thornton has experience closing games. He had a combined 23 saves in his tenure with the Chicago White Sox, and Kelley has rarely pitched in the eighth or ninth inning previously in his career.

Predicting the AL East standings after six games have been played


Brett Gardner running during a game.

Brett Gardner running during a game.

After losing two of their three games in Houston against the Astros, the Yankees rebounded with improved offense and solid pitching to win two out of the three games against the Toronto Blue Jays to finish the road trip.

Yangervis Solarte, who was the last player to make the team, has surprised everyone by being the offensive star so far in his first week in the Major Leagues after eight seasons in the minors with two other organizations. He is playing third base right now as Kelly Johnson is playing first since Mark Teixeira is on the DL with a strained hamstring, and is hitting .471 with five RBIs and three runs scored. Jacoby Ellsbury is also off to a great start to his Yankees career as he has a .333 average, one RBI, three runs scored and three steals.  Brett Gardner has two steals so far and has surprisingly hit the team’s only homer. In Sunday’s game against the Blue Jays, Derek Jeter passed Paul Molitor for eighth place on the all-time hits list.

The Yankees are currently in second place with their 3-3 record heading into their home opener against the Baltimore Orioles. Here is how I think the standings will be in the American League East at the end of the season.

1. Tampa Bay Rays

When you take into consideration their overall team, and that Joe Maddon knows how to get the most out of his roster, their talented pitching, hitting and defense should give them the edge. With David Price, Matt Moore, Chris Archer, Alex Cobb and Jake Adorizzi they have the best starting rotation in the division. Each of their starters had an ERA below 3.33 last season except for Adorizzi, who should be replaced by Jeremy Hellickson when he comes off of the 15-day DL. They have established hitters and ones with potential in Wil Myers, who won the Rookie of the Year last season, Matt Joyce, Evan Longoria, Desmond Jennings, James Loney and Ben Zobrist. They have a 36-year-old closer in Grant Balfour who is coming off of a season where he saved 38 games. The Rays also have a reliable setup man in Heath Bell, patience at the plate and one of the best defensive catcher combos in Ryan Hanigan and Jose Molina. Joe Maddon’s ability to mix and match and play the right players should help the Rays finish in first.

2. New York Yankees

The Yankees need to make the playoffs this season after missing out on the postseason last year for only the second time since 1995. They should be able to do that based on their offseason acquisitions. Brian McCann will be a major upgrade over Francisco Cervelli and Chris Stewart, who were the starters at catcher last season. Masahiro Tanaka, who allowed two earned runs in seven innings in his first start, will make the rotation much better. He will essentially be replacing the retired Andy Pettitte in the rotation. Their rotation of CC Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda, Ivan Nova, Masahiro Tanaka and Michael Pineda has the potential of being one of the best in baseball, if Kuroda stays consistent the whole season and Sabathia is productive. Jacoby Ellsbury will help the Yankees in their outfield with his ability to steal bases and hit homers at Yankee Stadium, while making the Red Sox less talented. A key for the Yankees to finish in second will be for Shawn Kelley or Dellin Betances to develop into reliable setup men, and Mark Teixeria to return at the end of his 15-day DL stint and be productive and for Brian Roberts to stay healthy and resemble how he played to finish last season with the Baltimore Orioles.

3. Baltimore Orioles

They finished last season in a tie for third place with the Yankees at 85-77. Late in the offseason they added slugger Nelson Cruz to their powerful offense and the 30-year-old Ubaldo Jimenez to their pitching staff. Last season for the Indians, Jimenez won 13 games, had a solid 3.30 ERA, 194 strikeouts and 80 walks. He was one of the best pitchers in baseball during his first three full seasons with the Colorado Rockies earlier in his career. He has the ability to greatly help the rotation for the Orioles, which was their weak spot last season. Chris Tillman is another pitcher that the Orioles will be counting on. Their offense is one of the best in all of baseball. They have five players who hit 20 or more homers last season, in Nelson Cruz, Adam Jones, Chris Davis, J.J. Hardy and Matt Wieters. Nick Markakis has hit more than 20 homers earlier in his career, and Manny Machado, who is on the 15-day DL right now, is a gold glove caliber third baseman who was second in the majors in doubles last season.

4. Boston Red Sox

All of their offseason signings worked last season, and they stayed away from serious injuries, which lead to them winning the World Series. However, they will likely not have as much luck this season. Their rotation is a question mark after Jon Lester and John Lackey. Lester can be counted on, but Lackey, who is in his 12th season, has had ERAs of 3.52 and 6.41 in his last two seasons. Clay Bucholz has a lot of talent, but he is either Cy Young caliber or below average. Last season he had a 1.74 ERA in 16 starts, but in 2012, he had a 4.56 ERA in 29 starts. Mainstays Dustin Pedroia and David Ortiz will continue to make their lineup dangerous, but their outfield is definitely a question mark.

5. Toronto Blue Jays

The 1-4 spots in the division could go in different ways, but the Blue Jays are on track for last place, with not much hope for finishing higher. Toronto was counting on Jose Reyes to be the create havoc at the top of the lineup, but the often injured shortstop is on the DL once again after reinjuring his hamstring on Opening Day. Their offense will once again be led by Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion, but they will likely not receive much offensive production at catcher, second base or left field. Their pitching will be by far their weakness this season. R.A. Dickey had 4.21 ERA in his first season in Toronto, Drew Hutchison has a 4.81 career ERA and missed the 2013 season due to injury, Mark Buerhle is at the end of his career and had a subpar 4.15 ERA last season, Brandon Morrow has a career 4.24 ERA and had a 5.63 ERA in 10 starts last year. Their No. 5 starter, Dustin McGowan, allowed four runs in 2.2 innings in his first start, and in 2008, his last season as a starter, he had a 4.37 ERA. The have the weakest rotation in the division and the bullpen is for the most part unproven.

Tanaka won his Yankees debut after striking out eight Blue Jays in seven innings


Tanaka catching a ball during spring training.

Tanaka catching a ball during spring training.

Masahiro Tanaka allowed three runs in the first two innings, which included a homer to the leadoff hitter, Melky Cabrera, but he rebounded to retire 16 of the last 18 batters that he faced in helping the Yankees beat the Blue Jays 7-3 on Friday night at the Rogers Centre.

This was Tanaka’s 100th professional win after winning 99 games with the Rakuten Golden Eagles in Japan. His first win for the Yankees helped even the Yankees record at 2-2 and win their second consecutive game. Tanaka only allowed two earned runs and was impressively able to record eight strikeouts while not walking anyone. Except for the first two innings, his splitter and slider, which are his out pitches, both worked very well for him.

Tanaka proved that he has a lot of poise since he was able to bounce back from his rocky start. He was probably nervous in the first two innings, but his ability to make adjustments should help him succeed against MLB hitters. The pitching coach, Larry Rothschild, said that, “I was not surprised by his tenacity and his composure at all.”

On the offensive side, the starting lineup looked a little different than normal because Derek Jeter received a scheduled day off because Saturday’s game is a day game and Joe Girardi wanted to give the veterans some rest to begin the season. Alfonso Soriano and Brian Roberts didn’t start the game because there was a lot of turbulence on the flight from Houston and they did not get to their hotel until about 6 a.m. However, Roberts ended up having to play second because Kelly Johnson would switch to play first base when Mark Teixeira had to leave the game as a result of straining his right hamstring going for a foul ball.

Not having Soriano or Jeter in the lineup or Teixeira for some of the game did not hurt their offensive production. The Yankees had 16 hits and Jacoby Ellsbury, Brett Gardner, Kelly Johnson, Ichiro Suzuki and Yangervis Solarte all had two or more hits.

Carlos Beltran got the scoring started as Colby Rasmus was not able to catch his shallow pop up in center, and Ellsbury ended up easily scoring. Later in the first, Johnson hit a single between first and second to load the bases. Teixeira’s single scored Gardner, but that at-bat by Teixeira would be his last one of the game.

In the third inning, Ichiro was called out at first on a play that he definitely appeared to be safe and Girardi smartly use the new challenge play. The umpires overturned the ruling, which allowed Solarte to have an at-bat in the inning. He continued his hot start to the season by hitting a deep double to the wall that scored Ichiro and Roberts. It is proving so far to be a great decision to choose Solarte over Eduardo Nunez.

Johnson, who had only played 18 innings at first before this game, made a great diving play to save a run in the third inning. Johnson will have to play first over the weekend and beyond because Teixeira, who only played in 15 games last season, has been placed on the 15-day DL as a result of the hamstring strain, according to the NY Daily News. The Yankees are losing a power hitting switch hitter in Teixeira.

The Yankees scored their fifth run on Brian McCann’s single to shallow left that scored Ellsbury. In this game Ellbury did what the Yankees acquired him to do as he stole two bases and scored three runs. Solarte’s double to deep center that scored Ichiro gave the Yankees an insurance run in the ninth.

Dean Anna, the 27-year-old rookie, recorded his first Major League hit in the ninth inning. The only negative for the Yankees besides Teixeira’s injury was that Dellin Betances did not show the same command of the strike zone that he did against the Houston Astros. The walk he allowed to Adam Lind forced Girardi to bring in David Robertson in a non save situation.

Michael Pineda will make his first start for the Yankees at 1:07 p.m. on Saturday after injuries derailed his 2012 and 2013 seasons.

Yangervis Solarte gives the Yankees defensive versatility for their last roster spot


Yangervis Solarte hitting during spring training with the Yankees.

Yangervis Solarte hitting during spring training with the Yankees.

It was announced a few days ago that Dellin Betances and Vidal Nuno, who could play key roles in the bullpen, will start the season with Yankees for the first time, and it was announced yesterday that the Yankees have decided to award Yangervis Solarte with the second back-up infield position (Dean Anna is the other) instead of Eduardo Nunez. It is somewhat surprising that Nunez was not chosen, but after being thought of as the successor to Derek Jeter a few years ago, he is obviously not thought of highly in the organization.

Brendan Ryan would have had one of those spots as Derek Jeter’s backup, but he is on the disabled list with a pinched nerve in his back/neck. He will not be ready until the middle of April at the earliest since he will likely have to go down to extended spring training once he is ready for games.

Solarte previously played six years in the Minnesota Twins’ organization and then spent the last two seasons with Texas Rangers where he hit .282 in the Pacific Coast League (Triple-A).The 26-year-old from Venezuela has never played a major league game, but offers versatility, having the ability to play second, shortstop, third and outfield. This is important because he is someone who can easily step in for Brian Roberts or Kelly Johnson in case they get injured.

Nunez, who has been sent to Triple-A Scranton since he still had an option, is obviously more established offensively at the major league level, but he has not shown enough consistency while at times being very unreliable defensively. Nunez hit .292 in 38 games in 2012, but in 2013, when the Yankees were counting on him to be the everyday shortstop after Jeter’s injury, he was injured and only hit .260 in 90 games. Since Nunez has some power and speed but not enough overall talent to help the team more often than not, especially as he often made inexcusable miscues at second, short and third, it makes sense to move on from him, at least at the start of the season.

Based on the injury histories of the current players on the team, the Yankees can’t have a backup infielder who can’t be trusted on defense or who doesn’t have much versatility. Solarte would be able to play outfield if Jacoby Ellsbury needs a day off or if the calf injury he had in Florida reoccurs. Hopefully Ellsbury does not have the bad luck injures that he has had in the past. Another benefit of having Solarte on the roster is that he can be counted on since he has played in at least 130 games in each of the last two seasons.

During spring training Solarte hit better than he has hit in previous years in the minors. In the Grapefruit League his stats were an unbelievable .429 average, two homers and nine RBI. It is not likely that this will continue in the regular season, since those stats can be a mirage, but it does prove that he has potential. Last season he made eight errors in 88 games at third base, two in 20 games at third and two in 20 games at shortstop.

Hopefully the Yankees will not need Solarte to play significantly but it is worth seeing if he can help the team given an opportunity. It is risky that the two backup infielders to start the season have no major league experience, but Ryan should be healthy in a few weeks and Nunez can always be called up if one of the two don’t work out. Betances, who went to high school in Brooklyn, will also be making the team out of spring training for the first time, but he appears much more ready to make an immediate impact.

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