It was the first four innings that Hiroki Kuroda held the Braves scoreless. It was in his last three innings that he gave up a couple of runs. In spring training, though, results are only part of the story, and Kuroda was much happier with the way he finished today’s next-to-last spring start.
“In the beginning I didn’t feel right, but I was able to make adjustments,” he said. “… Every game that I start I have to make some kind of adjustment, and I was able to do that the last few games that I pitched in spring training. I think I’m ready for that. I just hope I don’t get hurt.”
As long as he remains injury free, the Yankees seem happy with their offseason free agent signing. Pitching outside of the National League West for the first time, Kuroda has been exactly what the Yankees were expecting. He doesn’t overwhelm hitters, but he mixes pitches and throws strikes. Today he struck out six and walked none.
“I was pleased with what I saw, really pleased,” Joe Girardi said. “He’s the guy that I thought we were getting.”
The Yankees have planned all year to slot Kuroda into the No. 2 spot in the rotation, and that’s exactly where Kuroda will open the season, as the game-two starter against Tampa Bay. That leaves him lined up to start next month’s home opener.
“I try not to think that far ahead,” Kuroda said. “I’m just focused on this next start that I have to do.”
• More good news on Nick Swisher who managed to get 10 at-bats at the minor league complex today. He’ll go back to the complex tomorrow, and Girardi said he might play the outfield depending on how he feels. Girardi doesn’t expect him to take so many at-bats this time.
• In case you missed it, the Yankees announced today that they’ve claimed catcher Craig Tatum off waivers from the Diamondbacks. The signing seems to make sense given the Austin Romine setback, but a Yankees source also confirmed that Tatum is out of options, meaning he can’t be sent to the minor leagues. Hard to imagine him getting the backup catcher job ahead of Francisco Cervelli. Kind of a head scratcher.
• Speaking of minor moves, Sweeny Murti reported this afternoon that the Yankees have signed Jack Cust to a minor league deal. That would seem to be clear insurance just in case Raul Ibanez can’t shake off his rocky spring. Cust is also a left-handed hitting designated hitter.
• Speaking of Ibanez, he went 1-for-3 today and very nearly had his second spring home run. He was robbed by Jason Heyward’s leaping catch over the wall in right field.
• Speaking of struggles, Cory Wade gave up another run this afternoon. The big hit was a double by Eric Hinske, and Girardi said he felt that was the only truly bad pitch Wade threw (he left it up). Wade has a 7.27 ERA this spring and hasn’t looked sharp, but Girardi made it clear that he’s planning to have Wade in his Opening Day bullpen.
• One more Wade note: Just a few days ago he threw a three-inning simulated game. The Yankees want him to be a little bit stretched out so that he could give multiple innings if necessary. The loser of the rotation competition will likely be the regular long reliever. “You’d like to have two guys down there that could really give you some multiple innings,” Girardi said.
• The Yankees settle for a 5-5 tie after George Kontos gave up a two-run homer in the ninth inning. Kontos stayed in to pitch a scoreless 10th. … Eric Chavez went 3-for-4 including a double and an RBI single. He brought his average up to .235. … Eduardo Nunez’s strong spring continued with two more hits for a .393 average. … Justin Maxwell took an 0-for-2.
Associated Press photo
Up and down through the middle of March • 03.19.12
The off day seems like a good time to take a look at some of the players making an early impression — one way or another — in Yankees camp. In some cases — Jose Gil hitting .667 or Robinson Cano hitting .185 — the numbers up to this point mean absolutely nothing. Gil isn’t likely to play his way onto the big league radar, and Cano isn’t going to play his way out of the big league lineup. But in some case, players are making an impression that just might matter at some point.
.333/.385/.667 with five doubles
Seems like not much has been written about Granderson’s spring, but he’s been driving the ball consistently, which seems to be a good sign that he might be able to pick up where he left off. Obviously spring training numbers don’t mean much, especially when a lot of these at-bats have come so early in camp, but Granderson has at least given reason to believe last year’s breakout season wasn’t a fluke. So far, so good.
1.08 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, five strikeouts, one walk
Andy Pettitte might complicate things down the road, but for now, the Yankees are still trying to pick five starting pitchers from a group of six. And right now, Hughes is making a strong case that he belongs. With fastball velocity that’s much better than last spring, and fastball command that seems to be improving every time out, Hughes has been a very effective starter this spring, with the lowest ERA and lowest WHIP of any rotation candidate. Freddy Garcia’s hand injury did nothing to hurt Hughes’ cause.
0.00 ERA, 0.94 WHIP, seven strikeouts
A fairly late addition to Yankees camp, Rapada is trying to win the one open spot in the Yankees bullpen, and he’s making a pretty good case for the job. Through 5.1 innings, the lefty specialist has allowed just two hits while striking out seven. He has a track record of getting out left-handers in the big leagues, and depending on what the Yankees want from that last bullpen spot, might have emerged as a favorite to win a big league job.
.065/.121/.097 with seven strikeouts
I’m a real believer that spring training numbers — especially at this point — don’t mean much. But there were plenty of fans who weren’t sold on Ibanez in the first place and his slow start has done nothing to ease those concerns. A lot of his spring at-bats have come against lefties, which he will hardly ever face in the regular season, but he’s admitted that his timing is off right now. Results in spring training might not mean much, but there are certainly plenty of people who would like to see some results at some point.
54.00 ERA, four walks, no strikeouts
Two spring outings. That’s it. It’s a tiny sample size from a pitcher signed to a minor league deal, so it shouldn’t be even a blip on the radar. However, Miller is an intriguing possibility as a former elite prospect trying to work his way back from a series of injuries. He’s still just 27 years old with a past that makes people wonder “what if?” but his early spring impression did nothing but make him one of the first cuts. Not many pitchers have thrown particularly poorly in Yankees camp, but Miller certainly did.
Zero games played
He was always a long shot to make the team, but with Raul Ibanez struggling, Branyon might have been able to open some eyes and at least give the Yankees something to consider. Instead, he’s missed most of camp with soreness in his back. His situation wasn’t particularly good to begin with, but it’s only gotten worse as the injury has lingered.
NOWHERE TO GO
D.J. Mitchell, David Phelps
0.54 combined ERA, 16 strikeouts, six walks
Adam Warren and Dellin Betances have also pitched well this spring, but Phelps and Mitchell have been true standouts. Problem is, it’s hard to know what these numbers mean from two guys who are clearly no higher than eighth and ninth in the rotation pecking order. The addition of Andy Pettitte does nothing to help open a door for them, but they’ve been impressive.
.368/.455/.474 with three stolen bases
The only problem with Maxwell is what to do with him. A shoulder injury robbed him of last year’s second half, but he was productive when he played, and he’s been terrific this spring. The toolsy outfielder might be a great fit on the bench if the Yankees had a spot for him. Instead, his big spring might only help his trade value because he’s out of options and the Yankees don’t seem to have room for him.
.292/.370/.625 with two home runs
No doubt about it, Rodriguez has been good this spring. But unlike Granderson, the questions surround Rodriguez have little to do with his ability to hit. They’re all to do with his ability to stay healthy. So far, Rodriguez has shown no signs of injury, but he showed no signs last spring either and wound up on the disabled list. There’s very little Rodriguez can prove this spring. His only test is whether he can stay on the field through the end of October.
Associated Press photos
Tuesday notes: Granderson defers to Cano • 02.28.12
Curtis Granderson was a legitimate MVP candidate last year. He hit 41 homers and led the league in both RBIs and runs, yet he’s far from the biggest name in the Yankees clubhouse. How does it feel to have a year like that, and still be overshadowed?
“The good thing about this team, I don’t think there’s one guy that has to be the guy,” Granderson said. “If there is, if I’m pointing to him, I’m looking at Cano as that guy. It seems like he’s always the guy coming up with the big hit or big play for the last two seasons that I’ve been here.”
Robinson Cano seems all but locked into the No. 3 spot in the order, and despite his power last season, Granderson said he still doesn’t consider himself a true middle-of-the-order hitter.
“I remember being in Little League,” he said. “We had our first game one year, and I remember looking at the lineup. I think I batted first or second. One kid — he was a little bit bigger and just all-around, at the time, better — he batted third. I remember asking someone, how come he’s batting third? Why am I batting first? They said, the best hitter has to bat third. From that day — I was probably 8, 9, 10 years old – I remembered that. It’s not necessarily the guy with the most home runs. It’s your best all-around hitter.”
• Speaking of Thursday, the Yankees will have a team outing that afternoon. They’ll have a short workout in the morning, then the team will go to an undisclosed event at an undisclosed location. “We’ve done a real good job of keeping this one hush-hush,” Girardi said.
• Ivan Nova will likely throw one more bullpen before starting Saturday’s Grapefruit League opener. Today he threw batting practice for the second time this spring. “It looks like he has a plan,” Girardi said. “He knows exactly what he wants to do. Sometimes when you’re fighting like he was last year to try to prove himself, that he could pitch at this level — was he going to go with us, was he not going to go with us — I think with the experience that he got last year, I think he understands what it takes. And what he needs to work on. And what his approach is.”
• Joba Chamberlain said he’s scheduled to throw another 15-20 fastballs off a full mound on Friday. He’s not sure when he’ll be throwing breaking balls, but he’s hopeful it’s not too far in the future.
• Chamberlain knows that the Yankees don’t expect him back until June, but he’s still hoping to beat that expectation and get back sooner. He has a best-case scenario in mind. “I’m just going to do a Mo,” he said. “I know the answer, but I’m not going to tell you guys. Yeah, I have it in mind. I know the work that I put in. Like I said, three to four months can be realistic. But also on the other hand, it can be realistic on the front side of things. For all the work that I put in, I know there’s more coming up still.”
• Speaking of Rivera, here’s David Aardsma when asked whether he’s hoping to take Rivera’s job next season: “Nah, I’m focused on being healthy, and that’s all I’m worried about. Whatever those circumstances are, when we get there we get there. He’s the greatest closer of all time, man. He can ride out on whatever horse he wants to whenever he wants to.”
• Girardi was asked about catching prospect Gary Sanchez, the youngest player in camp: “He’s made some minor adjustments (defensively), and I’ve been pleased with his work ethic. He’s got some thunder in his bat, you can see. He swings the bat with authority. He’s got an outstanding arm. For Gary, he needs to play. This kid needs to play a lot of games so he understands the trade back there.”
• Kyle Higashioka hurt his shoulder during a workout today. “He could be out for a few days,” Girardi said.
• Bill Hall got quite a bit of time at shortstop during drills today. Really, it’s hard to imagine the Yankees are too concerned with his ability to play there, but I guess it’s possible it could come into play if Eduardo Nunez is hurt.
• Random observation of the day: When lefty Clay Rapada throws batting practice, the protective L screen is flipped as if a right-hander is throwing. The L screen is made with an opening for a pitcher to throw the ball, but the opening is too high for Rapada’s sidearm delivery. Instead, he just throws around the screen, keeping his left arm straight out to the side.
• As expected, Andy Pettitte did throw batting practice today, but he wasn’t on the main field. Pettitte threw BP in one of the indoor cages. The only hitters I saw him throw to were Jorge Vazquez and Zoilo Almonte.
Associated Press photos
Granderson’s glove shines in Game 4 • 10.05.11
Derek Jeter said he wasn’t surprised. He wasn’t surprised to see Curtis Granderson finally get a good read on the ball in the first inning, wasn’t surprised to see him start to go back on it, and wasn’t surprised to see Granderson make a leaping catch that might very well have been the turning point of the entire game.
“I think he’s made that catch against me here when he played for Detroit,” Jeter said. “He’s very familiar with this ballpark, but that was a very, very important part of the game. If that gets over his head, three runs score. It was definitely a very, very important part of the game.”
Before last night’s game became a blowout, two Granderson catches changed everything. The leaping catch in the first inning might have saved an inside-the-park grand slam. The diving catch in the sixth took away what might have been an RBI double that would have brought the tying run to the plate with a runner in scoring position.
Low line drive to center field by Don Kelly
“Right away I thought he hit it right to me,” Granderson said. “I took a step in and froze. It started to get some air. At least for my perspective, it kind of went up. I was like, ‘Oh man.’ I was able to go ahead and not be committed one way or the other. I ended up having to leave my feet, which I didn’t want to. I ended up reeling it in finally at the end. Don Kelly came up to me later in the game and he goes, ‘How did you do it?’ I said, ‘You hit it that hard. If you didn’t hit it that hard, it would have fell in and been a base hit.'”
Hard-hit ball to the left-center gap by Jhonny Peralta
“The (catch) with Peralta started just because of positioning,” Granderson said. “I flet he was a guy that was going to hit the ball to the right-center gap, so that’s where I was shading him. Sure enough, he ended up hitting the ball to the left-center cap, so I ended up having to go a lot further for it. Looked a Brett Gardner, he wasn’t there yet, so I decided to a lay out for it, ended up holding onto the ball. The reason I was slow getting up, I ended up knocking the wind out of myself, and I think I hit my head a little bit because I had a little headache afterwards.”
Here’s Granderson talking about his big night with the glove.
Associated Press photo
Postgame notes: “That’s just how A.J. is” • 10.05.11
It took A.J. Burnett exactly six pitches to walk his first batter tonight. Larry Rothschild went to the mound after five hitters, Cory Wade was throwing in the bullpen before the third out, and the only thing that let Burnett escape the first inning was a leaping, falling catch by Curtis Granderson.
That was the beginning of Burnett’s biggest start of the year, a game that saved the Yankees season and salvaged some of Burnett’s.
“That’s A.J.,” Russell Martin said. “He wasn’t that erratic. That’s just how A.J. is, really. I didn’t have to say anything to him. I gave him a little neck message, and he went back to work … Gave him a little rubdown, sort of like a boxer in his corner.”
It was occasionally a high-wire act, but like Martin said, that’s A.J. He walked four and gave up four hits, but he also gave the Yankees 5.2 innings on a night they gladly would have accepted four. After Wade got loose in the first inning, the Yankees didn’t have to use a reliever until the sixth.
“A lot of times, for starters, that first inning is the toughest inning to get through, and you kind of get your feet wet,” Joe Girardi said. ” He hadn’t started a game in a while, in about eight or nine days. But he got through it, and then he pitched really well.
“… I was proud of what he did. In a must-win situation for us, he pitched one of his best games of the year. I’ve said all along, the Tigers swing the bat. To be able to shut them down, he gave up the one solo homer and gave up a double and proceeded to get out of that inning. We were all excited for him and very proud of what he did.”
For Burnett it was redemption. No one rips A.J. Burnett quite like A.J. Burnett, and even tonight he was a little bit hard on himself — said he should have pitched deeper, gave the defense a ton of credit — but he also stuck with his mantra of staying positive.
“Maybe it took me 25 to 30 (pitches) to get loose,” he said. “Maybe. I don’t know. I was just letting it go, and if it didn’t go for a strike, it didn’t go. I wasn’t worried about it. I got the ball and was able to do it again. I was able to find somewhat of a rhythm after that. It was a little nerve-racking in the first. I hadn’t been out there in a while.”
The Yankees didn’t plan to have him out there this time, but Friday’s rain forced their hand, and Burnett forced a winner-take-all Game 5. It started out nearly as bad as the Yankees could have imagined, but on night of redemption and second chances, Burnett got it going and kept the Yankees alive.
“I knew I was overthrowing, but I wasn’t going to think about it,” he said. “When you think about it, that’s when it goes more south… I wasn’t going to let little things bother me. I didn’t care if I walked eight, whatever. How many hits, how many homers you give up, I was just going to get the ball back and let it fly. I took that approach tonight, and it worked.”
• Burnett said it more than once, and it was true every time: “We don’t win tonight without defense.” A double play, Derek Jeter snagging a line drive, a few nice plays by Alex Rodriguez and — of course — Curtis Granderson’s pair of run-saving catches in center field.
• Granderson said it was his second catch, the Superman dive into left-center, that was the more difficult of the two. “Because of the distance I had to go,” he said. “The first one, I didn’t have to move too far, but I did have to freeze on it. It does make that play very difficult. Once you end up on your heals, now it’s hard to go ahead and generate some speed. For the second on, to have to go as far as I did and then to have to leave my feet like that, the good thing I thought if I do miss that one, Gardner is there. For the first one, if I miss that one, there’s nothing there but the wall back there and some ivy.”
• No surprise, but Girardi committed to Ivan Nova absolutely getting the start on Thursday.
• Girardi also said CC Sabathia will be in the bullpen on Thursday. “I plan on him being available to us,” Girardi said.
• With Cory Wade up in the first inning, Girardi said he was fully prepared to make a move that early. “I can’t tell you that I was going to take him out, I can’t tell you I was going to leave him in,” Girardi said. “But I had the guy up in case that first inning got away from us a little bit.”
• Girardi wasn’t sure what he would have done if there were another base runner after Jhonny Peralta’s double in the fourth inning. “Very possible I make a change there, yes,” Girardi said. Burnett struck out the next two batters and stayed in the game.
• How wild was that first inning? Girardi said he thought it was Wade he had getting loose, but he wasn’t sure. After all that happened tonight, he was perfectly willing to believe it was Phil Hughes.
• Speaking of Hughes, he finally got in a game with a scoreless eighth inning. Jesus Montero also saw his first division series action with two hits, including a pinch-hit RBI single in his first career postseason at-bat.
• Alex Rodriguez got his first two hits of the division series. They both came in that six-run eighth when struggling Mark Teixeira and Nick Swisher also had hits. “I said our guys are having decent at-bats,” Girardi said. “They have a pretty good pitching staff here. There was a lot of talk about it. I talked about Adrian Beltre today. It doesn’t take much for a guy to be a huge impact. I thought Al had a huge RBI after getting down 0-2 in the count, I thought that was a big RBI.”
• Jeter on his two-run double that put the Yankees on the board: “I actually thought he caught it. After seeing the replay, the ball bounced right back up to him, and he bare-handed it. From my vantage point, all I saw was his back. That’s why I stopped at second. I thought he had caught it and that was double play. Austin has run down a few of my fly balls over the years. But fortunately for us, that one fell in.”
• Two more hits for Brett Gardner who’s having a nice series. His batting average is up to .385 in these first four games.
• We’ll give the Captain the final word tonight: “We enjoy playing at home,” Jeter said. “If you are going to win a championship, you have to play well at home, you have to play well on the road. We were fortunate to get a split here and bring it back to New York on Thursday. I’m pretty sure our fans will be vocal, excited and so will the Tigers. It’s going to be a challenge for us. Hopefully we can win one more game.”
Associated Press photos
Literally and figuratively, the storm clouds were gathering at Yankee Stadium this afternoon.
The Tigers had a four-run lead before the Yankees had a hit, then the rain started falling, Alex Avila slipped in foul territory, the tying run reached base and Robinson Cano came to the plate. This one had the potential for a wild walk-off that would give the Yankees a flood of momentum heading into Detroit. Instead, Cano hit a ground ball to second, and the Tigers claimed home field advantage heading into tomorrow’s delayed showdown between CC Sabathia and Justin Verlander.
“Tomorrow is big,” Alex Rodriguez said. “Going back to when I first got here, we always thought that Game 3 was the biggest. It’s almost like hitting; the 0-0 pitch is the most important, then the 1-1 pitch becomes the most important. Same goes for a series. There’s no need to get caught up in emotions. Whoever plays better, whoever executes fundamentals, is going to win the series. “
The Yankees seemed to have a favorable matchup against Max Scherzer, but aside from walks and a hit batter, Scherzer didn’t allow many scoring opportunities. The Yankees didn’t have a hit until the sixth, and they didn’t score until Curtis Granderson’s home run in the eighth.
Good things started happening for the Yankees in the ninth — Nick Swisher’s home run, Jorge Posada’s first postseason triple, Avila slipping and missing a potential game-ending popup — but this was never a game that felt good for the Yankees. They weren’t hitting, and the Tigers were perpetually doing just enough.
“You think that something is going to happen good for us (in the ninth),” Derek Jeter said. “But with Valverde, it’s hard enough to score a run off him, let alone four. But I thought we had some good at-bats. We battled there at the end, but we just fell short. For a moment there, you think we might catch a break.”
The Yankees did not catch a break. They didn’t create a break for themselves in the first eight innings, and they couldn’t do quite enough in that wet and rainy ninth. Sabathia vs. Verlander was the marquee matchup when this series began, and it’s the marquee matchup now that the series is tied at a game apiece.
“It’s huge,” Mark Teixeira said. “Tomorrow’s a really big game. You don’t want to go down 2-1 with them having a chance to close it out in their home park. It’s a big game for us.”
Two curious decisions by Joe Girardi tonight, each of which will surely lead to plenty of second guessing. As always, Girardi had reason behind his choices, but they didn’t workout. The question will be whether you agree with the logic.
With two on and one out in the seventh, Girardi sent left-handed Eric Chavez to pinch hit for left-handed Brett Gardner. He was hoping for a three-run home run. It’s worth noting that Gardner had lined out sharply in his previous at-bat, and that Chavez hit just two home runs tonight. It’s also worth noting that Scherzer has a tendency to give up a lot of home run.
“Gardner is fine,” Girardi said. “Just hoping (Chavez) might pop one… When you’re losing the game 4-0, you’re looking for a three-run homer is what you’re looking for, so no, it’s not a hard move.”
With the Yankees down by three runs in the ninth, Girardi elected to use Luis Ayala — essentially the last man in the bullpen — instead of going to either Dave Robertson or Rafael Soriano.
“We still have two more games in a row,” Girardi said. “And we’re down three. If we got it down to two, we were going to maek a change. Being down there runs and you know what Valverde has done all year long, we decided to go to Ayala.”
Chavez struck out in the seventh. Ayala allowed a run in the ninth.
• Jim Leyland said a lot about the production of the Yankees third and fourth hitters tonight when he admitted that the Tigers seriously considered pitching around Cano in the ninth inning to load the bases for Alex Rodriguez. “I thought about it,” Leyland said. “But that other guy has been known for the dramatics, and I figured it’s wet, it’s slippery, one gets away, one run is in. Something like that would happen, a groundball, a ball slips. I just couldn’t do it. He hit a ball in the infield, you get him over there, and somebody throws it away, the game is tied. It did cross my mind.”
• Rodriguez has struggled since returning to the lineup, but Girardi said he has no plans of taking Rodriguez out of the cleanup spot. “I thought he swung the bat pretty good yesterday,” Girardi said. “Today they made some tough pitches on him. I don’t have any plans in changing my lineup. It’s only two games. I’m not going to make too much of two games.”
• Most of the damage against Freddy Garcia was done by Miguel Cabrera, but Garcia was happy with his approach and his pitches to the Tigers’ best hitter. “First inning, I think that was a good pitch down and away,” Garcia said. “He made good contact. After that, I shut it down waiting for us to start hitting. It never happened, but that’s part of the game.”
• Although he allowed three hits in the sixth, Garcia said he wasn’t tired. “I’ve got like 70 pitches,” he said. “I was really good. I finished strong. Base hit here, base hit there. It’s part of the game.”
• Russell Martin is fine. The pitch that hit him got part of the bat and a little bit of the bottom of his left hand. “A little bit of acting there, but it did get me,” Martin said.
• Boone Logan’s balk didn’t matter — he struck out the next two batters — but he was embarrassed by it. Mid-delivery, Logan heard someone shout behind him and thought timeout had been called. The result was a sudden halt in his motion. “It was probably the worst balk in the history of baseball,” Logan said.
• Jeter on his costly error in the sixth: “I had no problem catching it, I just threw it low. With Austin (Jackson) running, you really don’t have much time.”
• Chavez on his approach pinch hitting for Gardner: “That’s not really my thought process to hit a home run there. I’m just trying to put the barrel on the ball and have the same approach every at-bat. I don’t think I go up there trying to do one thing or the other other than put a good swing on the ball.”
• Jeter said he thought, once Posada got between first and second in the ninth inning, that there was no way Posada was stopping until he got to third. “I don’t know about that,” Posada said. “I can’t get thrown out there. My run doesn’t mean anything.”
• It was the first postseason triple of Posada’s career.
• You don’t see Jeter arguing with a home plate umpire too often, but Jeter had a lengthy conversation after striking out looking in the seventh. He said he thought the ball was outside. “I was just asking him if he knew the weather forecast for the rest of the game,” Jeter joked.
• Everyone in the Yankees clubhouse seemed to mention Scherzer’s changeup, which doesn’t seem to a pitch you hear about very often with him. “He was really good, best I’ve ever seen him,” Teixeira said. “Great fastball, his changeup was really, really good. The numbers don’t lie, he dominated us.”
•• Posada gave an honest evaluation of Pettitte’s first pitch, calling it low and away. “I think it was a ball,” Posada said, laughing.
Associated Press photos
Postgame notes: “There’s some concern there” • 09.18.11
Ten starts in a row, Freddy Garcia didn’t allow a single home run. When he finally coughed one up on August 29, it was the only run he allowed all game. Since then, Garcia has allowed multiple home runs in three straight starts, including two tonight to Adam Lind.
“I try to make good pitches, and sometimes I’m not able to do it,” Garcia said. “That’s why I’ve been giving home runs… Last three starts, I don’t be doing my job. I’m really frustrated about it, but that’s part of the game. Sometimes you pitch good. Sometimes you pitch bad. You just have to go continue to try to do the best that you can do, and hopefully everything goes well for you.”
This weekend did little to clarify the Yankees rotation situation. Bartolo Colon couldn’t pitch beyond the fourth inning on Saturday, and Garcia couldn’t get out of the fifth today. At times, one of those two has been the Yankees second-best starter, but they’ve struggled recently.
“Bart had a good start on this road trip and had one that wasn’t so good,” Joe Girardi said. “Freddy’s kept us in the games. We talked at the beginning of the season how we worried about innings for both these guys. There’s some concern there, but they’ve just got to find a way to get it done.”
Garcia said tonight’s home run was a good pitch, a splitter that Lind put a good swing on. The second was a slider that “didn’t do much.”
As good as Garcia has been this season, there is some risk with him. He’s never been an overwhelming or overpowering pitcher. His value is in his experience and savvy, and sometimes that leaves little margin for error.
“He’s just missing some spots, that’s all,” Girardi said. “That’s going to happen. Freddy’s not going to be a huge strikeout guy and they’re going to put the ball in play. If you miss some spots, that’s the chance you’re going to take.”
• The Yankees won only four of 10 on this road trip, but they still managed to gain two games in the standings. After today’s game, the team just seemed relieved to be finally going home. “From now on every game is important,” Alex Rodriguez said. “Every game is meaningful. We’re looking forward to playing at home, playing well, start cleaning up some of the small mistakes that we’ve been making. We understand we’ve got to get better.”
• After Monday’s makeup game against the Twins, the Yankees play their final 10 games against the Red Sox and Rays. With seven games at home against those two teams, the Yankees home stand could either put the division away or make it a race to the finish. “It will be a great opportunity to do that there,” Mariano Rivera said. “We still have to perform good and take care of business at home, get this thing over.”
• The Yankees magic number to clinch a playoff spot is five, to clinch the division is seven.
• Obviously Brandon Morrow completely shutdown the Yankees offense today. “He had us baffled all day with his slide,” Rodriguez said. “He probably threw 70 to 75 percent sliders, which is a very high percentage for him. He’s usually the opposite, 70 to 77 percent fastball guy.”
• Of course, Nunez also made the second Yankees base-running mistake of the weekend. “He’s just making an aggressive turn,” Girardi said. “In that situation, you’ve got to know the score. You’re not going to get to second unless it really bounces off himn, so you’ve got to be cautious there. He was just overaggressive.”
• Why not pinch hit for Ramiro Pena in the eighth? “Pena’s had some success off him,” Girardi said. “Grandy is 1 for his last 15 with 10 strikeouts. If we had a couple guys on, I might have pinch-hit Grandy and taken a chance.”
• Impressive Yankees debut by Raul Valdes, who retired four of the five batters he faced, including all three left-handers. The Yankees have been giving Aaron Laffey a lot of chances to emerge as a legitimate second lefty candidate, but that Valdes appearance might earn a few more looks. I still don’t think the Yankees will actually carry a second left-hander in the postseason, but I’m sure they’d like to have a backup option in mind.
• Random fact about tonight’s game: The phone from the dugout to the bullpen stopped working for a while. “The phones haven’t worked real good here the last couple days,” Girardi said. “Danny (Iassogna) handled it and we used the policeman’s walkie-talkie for a few minutes, then they got the phones working again.”
• Girardi’s assessment of going 4-6 on the road and still gaining two games in the standings: “I think we are fortunate,” he said. “We’ve got to go home and play better, there’s no doubt about it. At times, we didn’t swing the bats on this trip. Is it good pitching? Is it fatigue? I don’t know, but I know our guys are pretty worn down. Now they’ll get to sleep in their own beds and hopefully catch up a little bit.”
Alex Rodriguez feels fine after yesterday’s return to the lineup, and Phil Hughes said he feels considerably better since Friday’s back spasms. Compared to a week ago, the Yankees seem relatively healthy today, and Joe Girardi said he wants to keep it that way.
Hence today’s lineup.
“The guys have been going so hard,” Girardi said. “I figured we’ve got an important 10 days coming up, try to get them a little bit of a blow. Grandy and Jeet have really struggled against Morrow in their career, and I just thought today was the day.”
Derek Jeter, Curtis Granderson and Mark Teixeira — the usual 1 through 3 hitters — are all out of the lineup. Robinson Cano, the usual No. 4, is starting at designated hitter. Girardi said none of those four have complained about injuries, and that’s not what today’s about.
“None whatsoever,” Girardi said. “Just trying to give them a little blow. I think they’re fatigued, as well as some of our other guys, and that’s why we’re going to DH Robbie.”
Girardi plans to have his regulars — most of them anyway — back in the lineup tomorrow.
“The other guys have had a little bit more rest than these three,” Girardi said. “I might not play Al tomorrow. We’ll see about Al, how he physically feels, but I would imagine I’d have most of the guys in there tomorrow.”
• Although Girardi is willing to discuss the idea of having Jorge Posada catch a possible record-breaking save by Mariano Rivera, he seems to be leaning against it. “It’s not something that we’ve done a lot,” Girardi said. “We’ve caught him one time, and the games are important right now. It’s something that we can talk about, but I’m probably going to stick with our catchers. That’s what I’m going to do.”
• A.J. Burnett is flying out of Toronto this afternoon so that he can get to New York the day before his day game start tomorrow.
• The Yankees rotation for the Tampa Bay series:
Tuesday: Ivan Nova
Wednesday: CC Sabathia and Phil Hughes
Thursday: Bartolo Colon
• Girardi said Hughes “continues to improve” and Hughes said he’s certain he would be available for Tuesday if necessary, but the Yankees are going to have him pitch one of those doubleheader games instead.
• Girardi’s not sure whether Hughes or Sabathia will start the first game on Wednesday.
• Girardi’s still not willing to discuss his playoff rotation. “A lot of it will probably, if we’re fortunate enough to get in, be determined by the matchup,” he said. “Until we get there or see how guys are doing, we’ve always said things have sometimes a way of working their way out. So, we’ll see.”
• Some of Nick Swisher’s throws from right field have been at less than 100 percent, but Girardi said that’s by design. “I told him, be smart about it,” Girardi said. “Don’t air it out if you don’t have to air it out. Sometimes outfielder just like to throw, and I just said, ‘If you don’t have to let it go, don’t let it go. Be smart.’”
• As you might have guessed, Rafael Soriano is not available today.
• The Yankees would love for Rivera to break the saves record at home, but if there’s a save situation this afternoon, Girardi said he will absolutely use his closer. “You got it,” Girardi said.
Mike McCoy SS
Eric Thames LF
Jose Bautista RF
Adam Lind DH
Edwin Encarnacion 1B
Kelly Johnson 2B
Brett Lawrie 3B
Colby Rasmus CF
Jose Molina C
Associated Press photos
Pregame notes: Swisher back in the outfield • 09.13.11
Three and half hours before first pitch, Joe Girardi still wasn’t sure who would be starting in right field. Nick Swisher was going to make some throws in the outfield, and his availability would depend on how he felt.
Obviously, he felt good enough to get in there.
“Tendinitis is going to go away,” Girardi said. “It could irritate him a little bit. It’s when it irritates him a lot that you worry about. There are a lot of guys that are probably playing with tendinitis in their arm right now, it’s just when it becomes too painful that you can’t do what you need to do.”
Just a few days ago, the Yankees seemed incredibly beat up, but the pieces are slowly falling back into place. Swisher is back in the outfield, Russell Martin is back behind the plate and Alex Rodriguez seems to be getting closer.
“It is good to see,” Girardi said. “It seemed like they all came at once, so we could have two back tonight and maybe a third – Alex – when we get to Toronto.”
• Initially, the Yankees said Rodriguez would sit out three to four days. This is the fourth game he’s skipped, but Girardi is now planning to give him tomorrow, plus Thursday’s scheduled off day. “I think Friday is reasonable for Alex,” he said.
• Francisco Cervelli has been placed on the disabled list retroactive to Friday.
• Girardi said it’s still uncertain whether the Yankees will get Cervelli back this season. “I think it’s really hard to predict what’s going to happen,” he said. “Concussions today have become so unpredictable, you think you’re getting a guy back, he plays one game and then goes right back to the symptoms. I have no idea.”
• Phil Hughes pitched well last night. Now it’s A.J. Burnett’s turn. “I think he can get better and better,” Girardi said. “His changeup was the best I’ve ever seen it the other day. It still comes down to being able to locate your fastball, and I think his curveball has been better with the depth rather than going across.”
• Both Dellin Betances and Andrew Brackman were getting loose during last night’s game, but neither actually got in. “I thought about using one of them,” Girardi said. “They were just throwing after that.”
• For those of you curious, four first-year pitchers have been carrying kids backpacks to and from the bullpen. George Kontos got Elmo, Hector Noesi got Dora the Explorer, Dellin Betances got Hannah Montana and Andrew Brackman got some sort of fairy character that I’ve never seen before.
Ichiro Suzuki RF
Kyle Seager 3B
Dustin Ackley 2B
Mike Carp LF
Justin Smoak 1B
Miguel Olivo C
Adam Kennedy DH
Casper Wells CF
Brendan Ryan SS
Associated Press photos
Postgame notes: “His mission was to be here” • 09.03.11
Ivan Nova spent almost a month in Triple-A this season. He missed three or four starts because the Yankees rotation was overcrowded, and since he’s been back, Nova’s won seven starts in a row. He hasn’t lost since June 3, and his 15 wins this season are the most by a Yankees rookie since 1968.
Two questions: If he’d never been sent to the minors, would Nova have a shot at 20 wins this season? Or, to look at it a different way, if he’d never been sent to the minors, would Nova be nearly this good right now?
“I think when he went to the minor leagues, when he came back his mission was to be here, be a part of the rotation, and he’s been doing an outstanding job,” Andruw Jones said. “A lot of guys on this team talk with him every time he gives a run or something like that. We try and tell him, that’s it. Don’t give no more and we will give you this game. He’s been doing that, so we’re really proud of him, the way he goes about his business.”
The Yankees love the improvement of Nova’s slider, and that’s something he focused on during his stint in Triple-A. They also love his confidence and his ability to make adjustments, something that also seems to have improved since that brief demotion.
“I’m not surprised,” Nova said. “Because I know what I can do. It doesn’t stop here. I have four more starts, so I have to stay hungry… I know I’ve got tremendous stuff, I just have to put everything right and work.”
Tonight, Nova allowed only one hit after the first inning, but that’s not to say he wasn’t hit hard. The Yankees defense was outstanding, and that made a huge difference, but Nova certainly settled in. The Yankees rotation is once again overcrowded, but these days, it’s hard to imagine Nova being the odd man out. After CC Sabathia and Freddy Garcia, the pitcher with the greatest claim to a rotation spot might be the tall rookie who just keeps winning.
“He learned a lot last year and he learned a lot in the first month this year,” Girardi said. “And I think he’s taken that and used it, and used it to learn how to relax in situations. He’s around the guys, and understands what he needs to do. He’s learned fairly quickly.”
The Yankees didn’t have Mark Teixeira or Alex Rodriguez tonight, and they had only four hits, but it wasn’t only the pitching that stepped up to fill the void. The Yankees defense was outstanding, quite possibly the best it’s been all season.
“You can look back and we probably had seven outstanding defensive plays tonight,” Girardi said. “And to win games like that, you’re going to have to have that.”
Eduardo Nunez went deep into the outfield grass to get the last out of the eighth. Curtis Granderson might have saved two runs with his running catch on the warning track in the sixth. Andruw Jones might have robbed Jose Bautista of home run No. 40 with his leaping catch in the fourth. Russell Martin threw out a runner trying to steal in the third.
But the defensive focus was on Brett Gardner, the same guy who hit the pivotal two-run homer. He showed good range to catch a sacrifice fly in the first inning, then showed even better range to make a tumbling catch that became an inning-ending double play in the first.
“Gardy really saved the game in the first inning, because it very well could have been four runs and a runner on second and still one out,” Girardi said. “… Gardy had a huge night tonight. Gardy drove in two, scored one and probably saved two or three himself. You look at the game, and that’s probably the difference.”
• Girardi is at least hopeful that Alex Rodriguez will be able to play tomorrow. “I would love that,” Girardi said. “I really wanted him to go through today and turn it up and notch and take normal BP and see how the thumb feels tomorrow, see if it responds well or there’s a little setback. If he’s a little sore tomorrow we probably won’t play him, but if he feels good, I’ll probably put him in there.”
• Mark Teixeira didn’t seem especially optimistic that he would play tomorrow. He was still hobbling around quite a bit after the game.
• Dave Robertson was not available tonight, which is why Rafael Soriano handled the eighth. “(Robertson) was a little sore tonight, so we decided to give him a day off,” Girardi said. “We should have him tomorrow. My guess is we won’t have Soriano or Mo tomorrow.”
• Jones said he wasn’t sure whether his leaping catch at the wall robbed a home run or a double. It was hard to see on a replay whether that ball was going out or off the top of the wall. “I thought it was a homer,” Nova said. “Once I heard everybody, I knew it was an out, but I wasn’t thinking it was an out.”
• Gardner said his tumbling catch in the first inning — the one that started the double play — was at least partially because of positioning. “Right before the pitch, I moved over a little bit and got a good jump on it,” he said. “I was able to get over there and get it, get it in for the double play and end the inning.”
• Gardner set a career-high with his sixth home run of the season. He hit five last year.
• Nick Swisher made his second start at first base in the past two years. He made 10 starts at first in 2009.
• Mariano Rivera got his 37th save, which is four more than he had all of last year. He’s four away from No. 600 for his career. He has saved each of the Yankees past four wins and nine of the past 15.
• The Yankees moved back into first place tonight. “It’s probably going to be back and forth the next three or four weeks,” Gardner said. “The Red Sox have a good team, so it’s far from over. We haven’t made the playoffs or won the division. There’s a lot of baseball left to play, so we’ll just stay focused on tomorrow and worry about that at the end of the month.”
Associated Press photos