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A New York Yankees blog by Chad Jennings and the staff of The Journal News

Archive for February, 2013

Wednesday morning notes: Heathcott makes spring start (with video)02.27.13

Because the Yankees met with the MLBPA this morning, clubhouse access has been limited. I’ll try to make these notes fairly quick.

We’ll start with a quick video of Slade Heathcott taking batting practice. He’s getting his first spring start this afternoon, and the game is a good chance to get a look at him because YES Network is broadcasting.

• Phil Hughes said he’ll continue doing pool workouts “at least the next couple of days.” He’s still not sure when he’ll start throwing, but he said his back feels fine. He’s just waiting for the green light from doctors, and he’s clearly getting anxious to start throwing so that he’ll be ready for the start of the season. “Every day is a day lost,” he said.

• As expected, Kevin Youkilis is not in today’s lineup. Also as expected, he said he feels “perfectly alright.” He was told to simply take swings with a light fungo bat today. “If they let me play tomorrow, I’m totally in for playing tomorrow,” Youkilis said.

• Mark Teixeira said he’ll play tomorrow and Saturday before leaving Sunday to join Team USA for the World Baseball Classic.

• J.R. Murphy had a big game yesterday — home run and a double — but his parents missed it. They decided to not drive to Clearwater because of the bad weather. Murphy said he’s naturally hoping there will be more big games for his folks to see.

• Mark Montgomery is scheduled to make his spring debut today. Tom Kahnle is also scheduled to pitch today. Those are two of the organization’s top relief prospects. Easier to get excited about those two than about seeing Cody Eppley, who will also get an inning today.

• Vidal Nuno, Ivan Nova, Corey Black and Bryan Mitchell threw bullpens today.

Today’s second string: C Francisco Cervelli, 1B Kyle Roller, 2B Jose Pirela, SS Cito Culver, 3B Walter Ibarra, LF Ramon Flores, CF Adonis Garcia, RF Tyler Austin, DH Kyle Higashioka.

Today’s scheduled relievers: Cody Eppley, Matt Daley, Tom Kahnle, Francisco Rondon, Mark Montgomery, Josh Spence, Preston Claiborne.

• Mariano Rivera, CC Sabathia, Matt Tracy and Shawn Kelley will throw either batting practice or sim games tomorrow. Jose Ramirez, Adam Warren and Andy Pettitte will throw bullpens tomorrow.

• Tomorrow is a split squad situation, with most of the big leaguers staying in Tampa.

Tomorrow’s travel squad:
Pitchers: Dellin Betances, Corey Black, Shane Greene, Brett Marshall, Zach Nuding, Mike O’Brien, Kelvin Perez, Ryan Pope
Catchers: Francisco Arcia, Francisco Cervelli, J.R. Murphy, Austin Romine
Infielders: Greg Bird, Cito Culver, Walter Ibarra, Corban Joseph, Luke Murton, Jayson Nix, Eduardo Nunez
Outfielders: Zoilo Almonte, Tyler Austin, Matt Diaz, Ramon Flores, Adonis Garcia, Melky Mesa

Associated Press photo

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Heathcott gets a start in center02.27.13

With Slade Heathcott getting the start, Brett Gardner shifts to left field for the day. Also Jayson Nix gets a turn at shortstop.

Brett Gardner LF
Jayson Nix SS
Robinson Cano 2B
Juan Rivera DH
Dan Johnson 1B
Zoilo Almonte RF
Slade Heathcott CF
Chris Stewart C
Corban Joseph 3B

LHP Nik Turley

Posted by: Chad Jennings - Posted in Miscwith 306 Comments →

Random thoughts on a Wednesday morning02.27.13

The Yankees are meeting with the MLBPA this morning, which means the clubhouse won’t be open to media for a few hours. A few random thoughts while we wait…

• There’s a chance Johnny Damon could actually help the Yankees in the month of April, and I’m usually all for low-risk contracts with guys like that. But the Yankees need to get younger, and they need to be open to giving some of their own players at least a chance to fill short-term openings like this. They’re great opportunities to find out who can play and who can’t. If none of the guys in camp prove worthy of the temporary left field job, then the Yankees can surely find a waiver claim or minor trade acquisition that’s just as reliable as Damon.  

• Jose Ramirez can pitch. Probably won’t be in the big league pitcher this year, but middle of next season isn’t out of the question. He looked good against legitimate big leaguers yesterday.

• A handful of at-bats mean nothing, but it’s interesting that Brett Gardner and Ichiro Suzuki have been the best hitters in camp so far. I honestly have no idea which one will hit leadoff on Opening Day. If I had to guess right now, I’d probably say Gardner, but that’s a complete guess and very, very subject to change.

• The fact Joba Chamberlain became a reliever can’t be blamed on one thing or one person. The Joba Rules were actually working before that 2008 shoulder injury. Even after the injury, the Yankees let Chamberlain spend all of 2009 as a starter, but  his 4.75 ERA was a pretty good indication that he wasn’t the same overwhelming pitcher who’d burst onto the scene two years earlier. Injury, performance and organizational decision making all contributed to putting Chamberlain in his current situation. Very little about the past three years suggests he would have been a great starter, but you never know, and so it will always be a question.

• By the way, the idea of some other team giving Chamberlain a chance to be a starter might seem far fetched, but I don’t think it’s totally out of the question if a team is willing to take a chance (and if Chamberlain is willing to take some sort of low guarantee contract). C.J. Wilson hadn’t started a big league game in four years when the Rangers put him in their 2010 rotation. He threw more than 200 innings that year, and a year later he was an All-Star and Cy Young candidate.

• I keep thinking about the fact that, early in camp, Girardi mentioned the idea of a left-handed bench player. The benefit is obvious — someone to hit for the catcher late in the game — but the options are minimal. It’s pretty much Dan Johnson, Corban Joseph and switch-hitter Zoilo Almonte. Wouldn’t have picked any of those three to make the Opening Day roster.

• Jayson Nix has gotten all of his playing time at second and third. Even during infield drills he’s been at second and third. Are the Yankees basically handing Eduardo Nunez that platoon SS/DH job? Sure seems like it’s almost a given that he’ll be on the roster, doesn’t it?

• Guys who have played with Melky Mesa in the minors seem to love him. Always smiling, always happy. He’s got the tools to be an interesting option for this open outfield spot.

• How much are we really going to learn once Mariano Rivera actually gets in a game? Unless he’s a complete mess — and his batting practice sessions suggest he’s not — he’s going to be the Yankees closer no matter what the spring stats suggest. I’m actually more curious to see Ivan Nova and David Aardsma get in a game.

Associated Press photos

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Tuesday postgame notes: “Not something we’re going to pursue”02.26.13

Brett Gardner had three hits yesterday. Ichiro Suzuki had three hits today. But those aren’t the outfield spots anyone wants to talk about these days. The Yankees search for a left fielder continues, and it seems that there will be no easy fix. Johnny Damon has offered his services, but general manager Brian Cashman made it clear today that the Yankees aren’t interested.

“It’s just not something we’re going to pursue,” Cashman said. “I love Johnny, a lot of leadership and everything else, but it’s just not going to fit our needs. It’s the same reason we didn’t bring him in last year. We need somebody who can play the outfield every day.”

In phone calls and text messages yesterday, Cashman told me and just about every other beat writer the same thing yesterday — that the Yankees are focusing on the options in camp — but today he was a little more crystal clear, and a little more detailed.

“I got a text from Scott Boras last night after I got a lot of texts from you guys,” Cashman said. “And I responded to him the same way I responded to you guys. … Johnny’s great. Listen, I love Johnny Damon, and he was an awesome Yankee when we had him. But that was a while ago.”

It was Matt Diaz starting in left field this afternoon. Melky Mesa played there yesterday. We’ll also see Juan Rivera, Ronnier Mustelier and Zoilo Almonte. It’s hard to rule out the Yankees making an addition before Opening Day, but Cashman made it clear that he’s in no hurry to make a change.

“We’re going to evaluate what we have in camp,” Cashman said. “I’m not looking outside at this stage. My first response, always, to a loss, is to make sure we don’t have what we need right here in front of us.”

• Cashman also offered an explanation of why Eduardo Nunez won’t be considered for the left field job. “I don’t think he profiles as an outfielder with the bat,” Cashman said.

• Have other free agents contacted the Yankees about their left field opening? “Yep,” Cashman said. Are any of them going to be signed? “No.”

• Phil Hughes did more pool work today, but Girardi didn’t have any sort of update on him. Hughes said yesterday that he expects to be reevaluated on Wednesday.

• Will Kevin Youkilis play in tomorrow’s game? “No, I don’t think so,” Girardi said. “We’ll make him go through some hoops first.”

• One random observation about Joba Chamberlain’s postgame comments. Doesn’t this eliminate any chance of him coming back to the Yankees after this season? If he wants to be either a starter or a closer, I have to think he’ll have a better chance finding one of those jobs elsewhere.

• Speaking of which, both Chamberlain and Robertson pitched a scoreless inning today. Robertson walked one batter but didn’t allow a hit. “I felt pretty good,” Robertson said. “I missed with a lot of fastballs away, but in my head I felt like they were minor misses. Missing six, eight inches outside. I felt like I had a good angle on my fastball, which is good. I feel like I’m more prepared this year than last year.”

• Chamberlain struck out two, first with a slider and then with a fastball. “Everything felt really good, so I was really happy about it,” Chamberlain said.

• Jose Ramirez made a strong first impression with his two scoreless innings. “To start his first game here, seeing Howard and Rollins, he threw strikes,” Girardi said. “He did a nice job. … He’s got a live arm. He’s got a really good changeup. Saw a good slider today. Good stuff.”

• Ichiro had three hits today, but the star of the show was J.R. Murphy who had a home run and a hard-hit double. The homer came off Zach Miner, who has 157 games in the big leagues. … Mark Teixeira had an RBI double today. … Suzuki stole a base. … Matt Diaz got his first spring hit with a single up the middle.

• The Yankees lost 4-3 because of a three-run seventh for the Phillies. All three runs came off Zach Nuding, who gave up a pair of homers — long ones — to Domonic Brown and Tommy Joseph. The Phillies had only five hits. … Branden Pinder gave the Yankees a good eighth inning with two strikeouts.

• Nunez hit three balls on the ground today. Each time, his helmet fell off on his way to first. Seems like that’s happened every time he’s hit a ball on the ground this spring. “I don’t know how it happens,” Nunez said. “This helmet fits me good on my head. You know, it’s tight! I don’t know what the problem is. … (Teammates) are all over me. They kill me, especially Jeter (who says), ‘Nuney, what’s wrong with you? This is Yankees. We can’t do that here.'”

Associated Press photos

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Here we go again: Chamberlain brings up the idea of being a starter again02.26.13

A few question into an otherwise routine, postgame interview, Joba Chamberlain was asked about his ultimate aspiration. He started his answer with these words.

“This is probably going to spark a bunch of stuff.”

Oh boy, here we go.

“It’s one of those things where it’s like, do you think you have the capability to start? Yes,” Chamberlain said. “Do I have four pitches that I can throw for a strike? Yes. Do I have two plus pitches in the bullpen that I can throw at any time? Yes. I guess I’m trying to have my cake and eat it, too. I feel like I’m good enough to do both. I’ve proven that I can do both. Whatever it is, if I close (or start), I want to be one or the other. I’ve been in the role of in the bullpen for a while, but am I confident that if I got the chance to start again somewhere — wherever that’s at — I could do it? Without a doubt. I just have to focus on this year and what I can do to improve to help this team win, continue to try to win ballgames for them.”

To be clear, at no point did Chamberlain say he should be a starter. At no point did he say he wants the Yankees to put him in the rotation, and at no point did he complain about them putting him in the bullpen. In fact, he was very clear about being happy to do whatever the Yankees want him to do.

“We’re down an outfield bat right now, too,” Brian Cashman said.

Obviously the Yankees aren’t putting Chamberlain in the outfield, and both Cashman and Joe Girardi made it clear that they won’t put Chamberlain in the rotation either.

“I’d like to catch one more game, too,” Girardi said.

Why was Chamberlain pulled from the rotation in the first place? Girardi said the bullpen simply “fit who he was,” but Cashman referenced the 2008 shoulder injury. After that, the Yankees gave Chamberlain one more year in the rotation before ultimately deciding he would be better off as a reliever. But let’s face it, no pitcher grows up dreaming of becoming a seventh-inning guy. Closer or starter; those are the high-powered jobs.

“I don’t know what the future holds for me,” Chamberlain said. “I have no idea. All I can control is to be healthy this year, to go out and pitch and whatever happens, happens.”

Associated Press photo

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Spring training Game 4: Yankees at Phillies02.26.13

Eduardo Nunez SS
Ichiro Suzuki RF
Robinson Cano 2B
Mark Teixeira 1B
Travis Hafner DH
Matt Diaz LF
Melky Mesa CF
Bobby Wilson C
Addison Maruszak 3B

RHP Jose Ramirez (7-6, 3.19 in 2012 in High-A)
This is Ramirez’s first appearance in big league camp

Jimmy Rollins SS
Ben Revere CF
Kevin Frandsen 2B
Ryan Howard 1B
Michael Young DH
Domonic Brown LF
Laynce Nix RF
Cody Asche 3B
Steven Lerud C

RHP Kyle Kendrick (11-12, 3.90 in 2012)
Kendrick vs. Yankees

TIME/TV: 1:05 p.m., not on TV or Radio

WEATHER: Rain finally stopped and it looks like the game will start on time.

UMPIRES: HP David Soucy, 1B Eric Cooper, 2B Dan Iassogna, 3B Vic Carapazza

PHILLIES PEN: Philadelphia is scheduled to throw RHP Aaron Cook, RHP Chad Durbin, RHP Zach Minor and LHP Jeremy Horst.

THE RIGHT SIDE: After three straight left-handed starters, the Yankees finally face a right-hander in Kyle Kendrick. He had a 1.54 ERA last spring.

LATE CHANGE: The Phillies made a late lineup change, putting Kevin Frandsen at second place instead of Chase Utley.

CITY OF BROTHERLY LOVE: Jayson Nix’s brother Laynce is in right field for the Phillies.

WHAT TO WATCH: Another chance to see Melky Mesa and Matt Diaz make a case for the left field job. Adonis Garcia, Thomas Neal and Ronnier Mustelier will also play today. … This will be the first spring appearance for both Joba Chamberlain and Dave Robertson. … It’s the first spring start for fringe catching candidate Bobby Wilson. Catching prospect J.R. Murphy is scheduled to get behind the plate for the first time this spring.

UPDATE, 1:09 p.m.: Nunez out on a ball back to the pitcher. Give him credit, he’s run hard on every single ball this spring.

UPDATE, 1:10 p.m.: Ichiro with an infield single up the middle. Just beat Rollins throw from behind second base.

UPDATE, 1:14 p.m.: Ichiro steals second and scores on a Teixeira double into the right-field corner. It’s a quick 1-0 lead for the Yankees.

UPDATE, 1:22 p.m.: Three up, three down for Ramirez. I don’t see a stadium radar reading anywhere, and the Phillies broadcast — which is on in the press box — doesn’t show velocity.

UPDATE, 1:24 p.m.: Matt Diaz with a single up the middle. That’s his first hit of the spring.

UPDATE, 1:27 p.m.: Mesa struck out, and was also called for batter’s interference on a stolen base attempt by Diaz. Mesa is out. Diaz is out. And Bobby Wilson followed with a fly out to center. That ended quickly.

UPDATE, 1:37 p.m.: Ramirez walked Howard, but he got Young to hit into a double play and got Brown to ground to first. That’s another scoreless inning from the young, hard-throwing right hander.

UPDATE, 1:43 p.m.: Ichiro had another hit in the top of the third, he was left stranded and now Robertson is out to pitch the bottom of the inning.

UPDATE, 1:51 p.m.: Nice play by Teixeira at first base get the Yankees out of the third inning with a runner stranded (a Robertson walk). Up next should be Chamberlain to pitch the bottom of the fourth, but first, it’s Teixeira, Hafner and Diaz coming to the plate in the top of the fourth.

UPDATE, 1:58 p.m.: Diaz lines sharply to first base, and it’s an unassisted double play. Granted, that one was bad luck, but Diaz has hit into three double plays already this spring.

UPDATE, 2:07 p.m.: Two strikeouts for Chamberlain, and the inning ends with a nice play by Nunez. Still a 1-0 Yankees lead heading into the fifth.

UPDATE, 2:12 p.m.: If that ball is a foot closer to the line, it’s a double for Maruszak. Instead it’s a 5-4-3 double play.

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Tuesday morning notes: “No concern” for Youkilis02.26.13

After running and taking batting practice yesterday, Kevin Youkilis felt a cramp in his left side. He considered it a non-issue. The Yankees considered it a potential warning sign.

“I got up today and was moving around fine,” Youkilis said. “It’s one of those things where, I think after I swung yesterday and running and all that, it was hot and I got a little dehydrated. When I got water in me, I was fine. Being a month away from games and all that, they just wanted to take it precautionary. I wanted to play today and was perfectly fine to play and didn’t feel like there was in risk.”

Is an MRI planned?

“Oh God no,” Youkilis said. “The doctor said very, very mild. Just a little thing that happens. I think I kind of learned my lesson, too. Don’t say you’re tight.”

The Yankees are extremely cautious this time of year, which seems to make obvious sense (especially with an older roster, two days after losing one everyday player for 10 weeks). Joe Girardi said he had no real concerns about Youkilis, just wanted to play it safe. The Yankees are labeling the injury as an oblique issue, but that seems to be strictly because there’s no real name for it other than a slight cramp in the left side just above the hip.

“I’ve had an oblique (injury) before,” Youkilis said. “It doesn’t feel anything like that. … I could literally go out there and play. No concerns whatsoever.”

• Actually, it’s uncertain whether any of the Yankees will play today. It was raining earlier today and the forecast calls for more rain here and in Clearwater. The Yankees bus was supposed to have left already, but it’s been pushed back to 11 a.m. so that the Yankees can take batting practice here (inside, I assume). Still seems pretty hit-or-miss whether there will actually be a game today.

• If there is a game, it will include the first spring appearances of Dave Robertson and Joba Chamberlain. Girardi said he’s planning to keep Robertson in the eighth inning — obviously — and he considers Chamberlain a strong candidate to be the go-to seventh-inning reliever. David Aardsma is also in that mix, but Girardi seemed to be leaning toward Chamberlain.

• Yankees planning to carry two left-handed relievers again? “You could look at it that way, that you’re going to have two lefties,” Girardi said.

• Didn’t see Phil Hughes this morning, but Girardi said Hughes’ pool work has gone well. “He’s not floating,” Girardi said. “That’s good.”

• Without Brett Gardner in the lineup, why isn’t Ichiro Suzuki batting leadoff today? “I don’t know,” Girardi said. “I just put him second.”

• Had a random morning conversation with J.R. Murphy, who’s moved this year to a locker on the back wall with the top catchers in camp. He said he likes it because there’s a better chance to really talk to and learn from the more experienced guys. I asked him if he played third base at all last season — could look it up, but I couldn’t remember at that moment — and Murphy said he honestly gets 2011 and 2012 mixed up in his head. He thought he played third base late in an extra-inning game but otherwise caught all year.

• Nothing new with the left field situation. “I’ve got a lot of paying attention to do,” Girardi said.

• Andy Pettitte is throwing live batting practice to Slade Heathcott and Tyler Austin today.

• Dellin Betances, Adam Warren, Hiroki Kuroda and Boone Logan are each throwing sides today.

Today’s second string: C J.R. Murphy, 1B Luke Murton, 2B Gil Velazquez, SS Cito Culver, 3B Walter Ibarra, LF Thomas Neal, CF Adonis Garcia, RF Ronnier Mustelier, DH Rob Segedin

Today’s scheduled relievers: Dave Robertson, Joba Chamberlain, Jim Miller, Francisco Rondon, Zach Nuding, Branden Pinder, Juan Cedeno, Chase Whitley

Associated Press photos

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Nunez leading off; Youkilis scratched02.26.13

Kevin Youkilis was supposed to play but has been scratched with a cramp in his side just above his hip.

Eduardo Nunez SS
Ichiro Suzuki RF
Robinson Cano 2B
Mark Teixeira 1B
Travis Hafner DH
Matt Diaz LF
Melky Mesa CF
Bobby Wilson C
Addison Maruszak 3B

RHP Jose Ramirez

Posted by: Chad Jennings - Posted in Miscwith 511 Comments →

Monday postgame notes: Diaz comes into focus this spring02.25.13

Until this afternoon, most of my clubhouse conversations with Matt Diaz were about his son’s tee-ball team. Diaz is the coach, and he seems to like the team’s chances. Says there are some kids who can really throw. The story of Diaz as a player was one that could wait for another day, probably a day late in spring training when the competition for the Yankees bench was really coming into focus.

But all of that changed on Sunday.

“One of the reasons they bring guys like me into a camp like this is to add depth with the understanding that over the course of a long spring — especially this spring — and a long season, you’re going to need depth,” Diaz said.

The Yankees need depth now. They need someone to fill a hole in left field while Curtis Granderson recovers from a broken forearm. The young guys will get a look — “I think there’s a chance that a less-experienced player could show a lot of upside and we’ll like what we see,” Joe Girardi said — but the most established options are Diaz and Juan Rivera.

For the most part, Rivera’s story speaks for itself. He came up with the Yankees, had his best years as a legitimate power hitter with the Angels, and now he’s trying to prove himself all over again. For Diaz, the story comes with a rather unusual twist: He had offseason surgery to remove shards of a palm leaf that have been stuck in his thumb for more than six years.

“It was actually splinters (of) palm fronds,” Diaz said. “I now hire a lawn man and I wear Kevlar (or) leather gloves when I go outside. I have to be outside, I live in Florida and I love doing yard work and stuff, but I got stabbed with the palm frond in ’06. We tested it, the first time I had it dug out was the end of the season in ’09. There was an infection, my hand was swelling, and 2010 was the first time they cut me open in the operating room to get out a centimeter-long piece of it. And last year, again a puss comes from the inside out — it’s pretty awesomely disgusting when I’d get jammed by a pitch — sure enough I went for an MRI and there’s two more little pieces in a V in the nerve.”

So that’s the story of Matt Diaz: Stabbed by a leaf, finally feels healthy again, and suddenly competing for a job as the Yankees (temporary) starting left fielder.

• Johnny Damon said in a radio interview that he’s interested in filling the Yankees hole in left field, but the Yankees don’t seem interested.

• Melky Mesa said he’s still planning to play in the World Baseball Classic despite the opportunity to win a big league job this spring. “If they need me here, if something happens, the Yankees will say yes or no,” Mesa said.

• Girardi said he doesn’t plan on telling Mesa to skip out on the WBC. The Yankees already know Mesa is going to be playing quite a bit for Team Dominican Republic. That team’s manager is Yankees bench coach Tony Pena, who can evaluate Mesa first-hand. “(Mesa) is going to play against left handers there,” Girardi said. “It’s not something I can’t watch on TV or that sort of thing.”

• Both Girardi and Brian Cashman have shot down the idea of using Eduardo Nunez in left field.

• Dan Johnson has played a little bit of left field in his career. “We were going to give him a look at third and first,” Girardi said. “Do you expand roles? I don’t know.”

• If you were wondering, Girardi said he doesn’t think Granderson will have surgery to repair the broken bone.

• Not a bad debut for Vidal Nuno. Granted, he gave up a run and two doubles, but he also struck out five of the nine batters he faced. Makes you think his blend of offspeed pitches might be enough to get big league hitters out; at least makes him worth keeping an eye on this season in Triple-A.

• How’s Brett Gardner feeling in center field? “I feel good,” he said. “I had a little bit of running today, balls in the gap. On one I was running into a pretty stiff wind, didn’t feel like I was going anywhere, but I feel good out there.”

• Although his numbers haven’t been good, Diaz said he’s generally pleased with his at-bats so far this spring. “What I can control is how hard I work and the approach I’m taking at the plate,” Diaz said. “I’m happy with both of them right now. I’m not overly happy with Buck Showalter giving the Orioles off infield practice tomorrow just because I hit so many ground balls today. There will be adjustments made in my swing. That’s all I can control.”

• Today’s final score was 5-1 Orioles. The Yankees didn’t get on the board until there were two outs in the ninth. That’s when Corban Joseph drew a walk, stole second base and scored on Walter Ibarra’s single.

• Gardner and Jayson Nix combined for five of the Yankees eight hits. The other three came from Ibarra, Gil Velazquez and Greg Bird. … Johnson made a fielding error at third base. … Shane Greene, Kelvin Perez and Josh Spence each threw a scoreless innings. Ryan Pope, Bryan Mitchell and Nuno allowed a run apiece, and Corey Black allowed two runs. Black walked two guys and let them score on a Nate McLouth double.

• Both Chris Dickerson and Russ Canzler had hits for the Orioles. As it turns out, one of those two might have had a chance for some regular playing time had they stayed on the Yankees roster.

Associated Press photos

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Risk and reward in Gardner’s three-hit day02.25.13

Brett Gardner had three hits today. The third was notable only because it made him 3-for-3; it was the first two that were really worth watching.

Third inning
Bunt single up the third-base line

Remember when Phil Hughes kept coming to spring training and talking about his changeup? It’s a similar thing with Gardner and bunting. He’s always known it should be a significant weapon for him, but he’s never done it consistently in the big leagues. Today he dropped a perfect bunt where the Orioles never had a chance to get him.

“I have (worked on it) a lot,” Gardner said. “I feel really good with it. (That was) a situation where he’s playing me back, (but) it wouldn’t have mattered if he was playing in, probably. Just trying to stay in there, take my time, make a good bunt. It’s something I plan on doing a lot of.”

Joe Girardi said the Yankees have always encouraged Gardner to work on bunting — “We started encouraging when we first saw him,” Girardi said — but the Yankees made no point of telling Gardner to work on it this winter. He set that priority himself.

“It could be a big weapon,” Gardner said. “Especially if I get consistent with backing the ball up in the zone and hitting it hard to the left side; make that third baseman think about coming in a little too far. I’ll try and continue to work on it, especially during games, and try to get better at it.”

First inning
Infield single to the first baseman

It was a race between Gardner and Orioles starting pitcher Brian Matusz. At some point, it became clear Gardner was going to step on the bag first, but it also seemed Matusz might be able to get the feed from first baseman Chris Davis and slap a tag on Gardner. So Gardner slid headfirst into first base. Couldn’t help himself.

“Not even after what happened to Curtis yesterday, I guess,” Gardner said. “… I’ve collided with the pitcher on those plays before. The pitcher’s had a throw up the line and reached out and tagged me in the chest before I touched the bag before. It’s the kind of thing where, it’s almost just habit.”

Both Girardi and Gardner said there was no manager-to-player conversation after the play — “He’s said it enough to me where he probably knows it’s going in one ear and out the other,” Gardner said — but Girardi said he might say something to Gardner tomorrow. Fact is, everyone understands the situation. It’s a dangerous play that only helps to avoid a tag. It might have helped Gardner today, but was it worth the risk?

“I know during the season it becomes instinctual,” Girardi said. “But right now you don’t want to see him get his hand stepped on. … The hard thing is, it’s instinctual. But no matter how many times you tell a guy, I mean, how many times do you think I told Bernie? Just, when they’re hustling and playing hard, it happens.”

Associated Press photo

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