Hiroki Kuroda didn’t look good the first two innings of this 5-3 win, three runs, six hits allowed.
“All I thought was just hang in there pitch by pitch and hopefully I would be able to overcome this adversity,” he said.
Who could have predicted Kuroda wouldn’t allow another run or hit to the Blue Jays over the next four innings of his six-inning outing?
“It says a lot because he didn’t really have a whole lot tonight,” Joe Girardi said. “… He didn’t have his sinker. He didn’t have his good off speed for the most part. He seemed to find his slider at the end of the third and found a way to gut it through six innings without giving up any more runs after the second. … This might be his best performance of the year.”
Vernon Wells continues to perform against his old team as well as against Mark Buehrle. Wells launched the comeback with a solo shot over the center-field fence in the second. He’s now batting .480 (24 for 50) with three homers lifetime vs. Buehrle and .421 (8 for 19) with three homers vs. the Blue Jays this season. He’s at .293 with six homers and 10 RBI in 19 games with the Yankees.
“Vernon’s a good player,” Toronto manager John Gibbons said. “Always has been. He’s got new life going over there. He’s a very intelligent guy and you know he’s motivated. Something about playing in Yankee Stadium for the Yankees. This place brings out the best in people or you hear about it if you don’t.”
Robinson Cano hit the go-ahead three-run homer. He’s streaking, now batting .391 (25 for 64) with six doubles, seven homers, 17 RBI and 13 runs scored over his last 15 games.
“This is probably as good as he’s started that I can really remember,” Girardi said.
Something strange happened in the seventh. Ben Francisco was called out on a throw to first, but the umpires met and reversed the call. Gibbons got ejected after arguing the decision.
“… They said he bobbled it,” Gibbons said, talking about first baseman Edwin Encarnacion. “My big concern was that there was no appeal by the other side.”
Jeff Kellogg, the second base umpire and crew chief, said: “My sense (was) the ball was resting on the ground and his glove was around the top of the ball. … Our thought process is we’re going to try to get the plays right.”
The reversal/hit raised Francisco’s average to .103 (3 for 29).
Jayson Nix went 2 for 3, his third multihit game in the last five and fourth overall. He also turned in golden glove work at third.
Francisco Cervelli hit his third homer, one short of his career high from two years ago.
The Yankees are now 11-5 after the 1-4 start.
Brian Heyman here joining the season in progress.
So Robinson Cano is batting second in the series finale against the Red Sox, after Brett Gardner and before Kevin Youkilis and Travis Hafner.
“Just to try to break up some of the left-handers we have,” Joe Girardi said. “We decided to take a look at this … just to try to make it not so easy on the other teams.”
Cano has seen the Red Sox play a shift. Girardi said it’s the first time he has seen it against him.
“Robby’s a guy who can hit the ball the other way,” Girardi said. “We’ll how it works it out.”
Hiroki Kuroda said he wouldn’t do any long-tossing today to test that bruised right middle finger, the one that got hit by the Shane Victorino line drive Tuesday night.
“I spoke to the trainer,” Kuroda said through an interpreter. “He suggested I shouldn’t throw today so I can try to throw my bullpen tomorrow.”
Girardi said Kuroda is still scheduled to make his next start, and that’s Kuroda’s intent. But he also said he won’t know until after that bullpen session in Detroit.
“I have to say it doesn’t feel normal,” Kuroda said. “I feel a little discomfort.”
Mark Teixeira is still shooting for a May 1 return.
“I hope it’s a possibility,” Girardi said. “He’ll have to go through some spring training. … I don’t want to rush him.”
Tuesday night, Vernon Wells hit a three-run homer and had his first three-hit game since last Aug. 11 when he was with the Angels.
“He’s swinging the bat well,” Girardi said. “In left field, he looks comfortable. He looks like he’s relishing his time here.”
It’s only the third game, but Girardi thinks this is an important game after the Yankees dropped the first two of the season.
“I don’t think anyone wants it to go too far,” Girardi said.
David Aardsma was released. The reliever had been designated for assignment last Friday.
Tuesday notes: Another opportunity for Nunez • 02.19.13
It’s going to be a while before Derek Jeter is ready to play in games, and that means playing time for someone else. Most notably, it means playing time for Eduardo Nunez.
“I can’t kill him,” Joe Girardi said. “I can’t play him nine innings every day, but he’s going to play a substantial amount.”
Nunez and Jeter went through shortstop drills together again today, and the Yankees plan to keep Nunez at short this spring, and there’s little doubt that the Yankees idea of letting Jeter DH against lefties in the regular season leaves a legitimate opportunity for Nunez to get big league playing time again.
“I want Jeter to be healthy again and play how he plays,” Nunez said. “But for now, it’s my opportunity to show I can play every day and show I can play defense. I can do different things than people think I can do. … I feel great right now. My confidence is (high). I know what I can do. I know what kind of player I can be, and that I can be right now.”
Girardi said the Yankees will look for consistency out of Nunez, and that should come as little surprise. Nunez has shown flashes of being a valuable big leaguer — most recently, he played well during his short time playing in Jeter’s place during the ALCS — but his defensive lapses are well documented.
“He has to earn it,” Girardi said. “We’ve got to toy with some different options, but we liked what he did at the end of last year. We know he provides a lot of excitement. Our plans are probably to keep him at short for the most part — we did talk about that — but he does have to earn it.”
Girardi said there’s a chance the Yankees could carry both Nunez and Jayson Nix, but it would leave the Yankees without a left-handed pinch hitter, which they’d like to have. Ultimately, Girardi repeated his familiar promise to carry the best players to make up the best team. Nunez will have a chance to put himself in that group.
“Jeter’s a Gold Glove,” Nunez said. “Cano’s a Gold Glove. (So are) Teixeira and A-Rod. You don’t see too many errors from these guys. When they come to me, I make an error, it’s a big thing. … It was a little bit in my mind, frustration for that, but I thank Jeter, thank A-Rod (and) thank Cano. They talked to me a lot and teach me how to fix that.”
• Here’s Girardi explaining the Phil Hughes injury: “It’s upper back, up here by his shoulder blades, so we’ll see how he is in a couple of days. The good thing is he was ahead of where he probably would normally be at this time, which helps. … You’re usually more concerned about the lower lingering. But until it’s gone, it’s going to linger. That’s like a Yogi-ism.”
• Despite being ahead of most of the other big league pitchers, Hughes was not in consideration to start Saturday’s spring opener even before the injury.
• Austin Romine said he’s more or less stopped thinking about his back. He doesn’t really notice it any more. Bascially a week into spring training and Romine’s had no problems so far. He’s very optimistic that he’s gotten past the problem.
• Haven’t heard much about Michael Pineda lately. He said today that his shoulder still feels good, but he’s not scheduled for another bullpen until Friday.
• David Phelps gets the opening start on Saturday, and although Girardi didn’t talk about it today, he’s always made it clear in the past that early spring outings don’t carry a lot of weight. I can’t imagine Phelps is going to feel that way. This is what he said earlier in camp: “I pushed myself a little more in the offseason so my arm is ready a little quicker during spring training because I’m trying to make an impression.”
• Speaking of making an impression, I didn’t see it, but there was some buzz today about Ichiro Suzuki’s behind-the-back catch during outfield drills. I asked Brett Gardner to describe it and Gardner started laughing. “That’s my fault,” he said. “I told him to do it.” Gardner said that Ichiro has a variety of behind-the-back catches that he’ll do every once in while when the team is shagging fly balls. Gardner wanted to see a few today, and Ichiro was up to the task. Girardi said he didn’t see Ichiro do it today, but “I’ve seen him do it before,” Girardi said.
• Mark Teixeira’s last day in Yankees camp is March 2. Robinson Cano’s last day is March 3. After that, those two will join their World Baseball Classic teams to prepare for the tournament.
• Random conversation of the day was with new outfielder Thomas Neal. If a handshake is any indication of a man’s strength, Neal just might be a 40-homer guy. I’m not sure how he uses a cell phone without crushing it. Seriously, Neal said he got some interest from the Yankees pretty soon after being designated for assignment, but he took some time making his decision on where to sign. He decided the Yankees were the best fit, with the potential for a real opportunity.
• Matt Diaz tried to convince me to write a story about his son’s tee-ball team. Seriously. He thinks that group has a real shot this year.
Associated Press photos
Best case, worst case: Second base • 01.24.13
For the Yankees best player, the best-case scenario is so high that he just might price himself out of the Yankees future plans. It’s the position that brings short-term security and long-term uncertainty.
Dollars and sense
At age 30, coming off three straight seasons finishing top six in MVP voting, Robinson Cano’s best-case scenario has something to do with being the best player in the American League. He’s a Gold Glove defender, a Silver Slugger hitter and a legitimate MVP candidate in his prime. Improve with runners in scoring position, move past last year’s struggles against lefties, and Cano could legitimately have the best season of any hitter in the American League.
But if we’re talking about the best-case scenario for the next 12 months, it’s all about what happens in November and December. Cano is a homegrown force; a middle-of-the-order slugger who plays a defensive position more accustomed to No. 8 hitters without much pop. He’s been durable and, until last year, had a pretty good track record in the playoffs. If the Yankees could lock him into a reasonable long-term contract — good luck with that — they could have second base figured out through the end of the decade. Might be impossible given his open-market value, but finding a way to fit Cano into the Yankees financial plans would be ideal.
Of course, it wouldn’t hurt to have Corban Joseph and David Adams repeat last year’s offensive results. Joseph showed surprising power last season, and Adams finally moved beyond a lingering ankle injury to restore his prospect status. In a best-case scenario, those two could become offensive second base options almost immediately (and certainly by next year if Cano prices himself out of the Yankees plans). There’s also Angelo Gumbs to consider. Long touted for his athleticism and potential — a good mix of speed and power, especially for a middle infielder — an injury free season could solidify his status as the Yankees top infield prospect.
Small numbers and a big number
Two signs of trouble from Cano’s 2012 season: .239/.309/.337 vLHP and .207/.333/.379 with two outs and runners in scoring position. Make no mistake, Cano was terrific last season, but his struggles against lefties were surprising, and he was especially bad in RISP situations early in the season. It’s silly to think Cano will suddenly have a terrible year at the plate — he could slump quite a bit and still have an OPS well above .850 — but it’s possible that he could put up terrific overall numbers while still experiencing a handful of situational struggles that keep him from being as productive as those overall numbers suggest.
But, of course, even a down season from Cano won’t keep him from demanding — and getting — a huge contract from someone in the offseason. Cano could take a mild step back this season, and still price himself well outside of the Yankees spending plans. Or, perhaps it’s an even worse scenario to have the Yankees cave to his demands and give an Alex Rodriguez-sized contract that eventually blows up into an Alex Rodriguez-sized disaster.
The willingness to cave to Cano might grow more likely if Joseph and Adams take a step back. Joseph never hit more than six homers in a season before he hit 16 last year. What happens if his power slips in his first full-season attempt at Triple-A? Adams’ strong Double-A season wasn’t quite a full season — limited to 86 games — and he still hasn’t faced a single Triple-A pitch. If those Double-A numbers don’t translate and Joseph takes a step back, the Yankees won’t have a fallback plan at second. Add in another injury for Gumbs, and a sloppy infield adjustment for Rob Refsnyder, and the Yankees could be left without Cano and without an in-house replacement on the horizon.
Associated Press photos
David Phelps continued to make a positive impression despite taking this 4-1 loss to the Red Sox. The rookie went a career-high 6 2/3 and gave up just three runs and seven hits. He struck out seven and walked none in what will likely be his final start before CC Sabathia comes off the DL. Joe Girardi said he hopes that will be Friday night in Cleveland.
But Phelps can still be an asset in the bullpen. He’s 3-4 with a 2.69 ERA in 24 outings overall. In his five starts, including two since Sabathia went down with his elbow problem, Phelps is 1-1 with a 2.92 ERA. Someone will have to go to make room for Sabathia, but Phelps is pitching better than Joba Chamberlain and Cody Eppley right now.
“We like what he does,” Girardi said about Phelps. “He’s a guy that’s somewhat of a swing guy for us. If we need him to start, he can start. If we need him to give us an inning in the bullpen, a couple of innings in the bullpen, he can do that. If we need him to give long relief, he can do that.
“He’s a valuable guy on your team because he can do so many different things, and he’s had success in all areas.”
Phelps was done in by an opposite-field, two-run homer in the first by Adrian Gonzalez.
“It was right where we wanted it,” Phelps said. “The ball was down and off the plate. … It’s incredibly frustrating.”
Jon Lester’s inconsistency has been problematic for Boston, but the Yankees managed just five hits off the lefty. He’s still only 7-10 with a 5.03 after back-to-back starts with one run allowed.
“When you look up at the numbers, you kind of step back because you know that’s not the type of pitcher he really is,” said Nick Swisher, who had two of his three hits off Lester. “Tonight you got the best Jon Lester that we’ve seen in a while.”
The Yankees finished 0 for 9 with runners in scoring position.
“It’s hard to win a game when you do that,” Girardi said.
Curtis Granderson seems to be breaking out of his slump, coming through with a homer and two hits for the second consecutive game. Both homers were off left-handers. He has hit 11 of his 32 off lefties.
Derek Jeter lost his 13-game hitting streak. He batted .367 over that stretch.
Robinson Cano is struggling right now. He went hitless for the fourth consecutive game with an at-bat, his worst stretch since a four-game hitless run in 2008. His career high is five straight. That was in 2005.
The Yankees need to come up with an answer for Pedro Ciriaco. He had a four-hit game against them at Fenway last month and he went 4 for 4 in this game. He’s batting .517 against them in seven games, going 15 for 29. He’s batting .276 in 28 games against other teams.
“He’s on fire against us,” Phelps said. “It’s one of those things.”
Sunday night baseball on ESPN with feature a pitching matchup between Hiroki Kuroda, who has been very good, and Josh Beckett, who has not.
Yankees pregame: Granderson gets a rest • 07.18.12
Brian Heyman here for Chad today at Yankee Stadium for this homestand finale. This is game six of 13 straight coming out of the break. Curtis Granderson had started 89 of the first 90 games, 88 of them in center. But Joe Girardi picked today to sit him at the start with lefty Ricky Romero going for the Blue Jays.
“If I’m going to take a day off for him, I’m going to do (it against) a left-hander,” Joe Girardi said. “I think on the road trip we’re going to see six out of seven right-handers, so I just chose today.”
The Yankees have scored at least three runs in 41 straight games, becoming just the third team in the Live Ball Era to do that in a single season, joining the 1994 Cleveland Indians and the 1930 Philadelphia Athletics.
“It’s still amazing,” Girardi said. “You expect them to score runs with this club and the home runs we hit. But there are going to be days when pitchers throw the ball extremely well and runs are tough to come by. But our guys have done a good job of just finding a way in some of those tough games to scratch some runs across.”
Robinson Cano will try to extend his career-high hitting streak to 21 games. The 20-game run is the longest active streak in the majors. Derek Jeter is the last Yankee to have a longer streak in a single season at 25 games in 2006. It’s the longest by a Yankees regular second baseman since Joe Gordon’s 29-game streak in 1942. Cano is batting .405 with six homers and 20 RBI in this stretch. He has delivered at least two hits in 11 of the 20 games.
“I’m excited about it now,” Girardi said. “I mean, 20-game hit streak, it means that he’s being productive. As far as how far it goes, I really haven’t thought too much about that. I think all of us expect Robbie to put good at-bats every day. When he does that, he’s going to get his base hits. So him hitting in 20-straight games doesn’t really surprise me.”
Girardi doesn’t see the streak being a burden to Cano at this time.
“I think he’s pretty carefree,” Girardi said. “I don’t think he would focus on it yet. If it got to be way up there, I think every player, no matter how carefree you are, you’d focus on it a little bit because you’d be asked questions. But right now I don’t think he thinks much about it.”
Girardi said Joba Chamberlain’s next rehab outing should be Friday. Girardi had no update on Brett Gardner’s MRI results. And Mariano Rivera rang the opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange.
Yankees get three starters in All-Star Game • 07.01.12
The starting lineups are out for July 10 in Kansas City. Derek Jeter is now a 13-time All-Star, although he bowed out last year. Robinson Cano will be at second for the third straight year. He’s a four-time pick. Curtis Granderson is a three-time All-Star and will start for the second straight year. CC Sabathia was picked for the sixth time, but he’s on the DL.
The Yankees haven’t been fazed by this long run of bad injury luck this season. This 4-0 win over Chicago stopped their two-game mini-slide and marked their 16th victory in the last 21 games.
I asked Joe Girardi after the game about what their mindset has been in the face of all these injuries.
“Just to keep going,” Girardi said. “Just go a day at a time. I think people realize that there’s still a lot of talent in that room, that no one’s going to feel sorry for us, can’t feel sorry for yourself. People have got to step up. Every team is usually going to go through injuries. The teams a lot of times that overcome those injuries are the teams that play in the playoffs.”
During the first inning, I also asked a guy who knows a thing or two about leading a team past injuries and about winning Super Bowls for his view on the Yankees’ situation. Giants coach Tom Coughlin, who was here to throw out the first pitch, says he keeps an eye on what’s happening here.
“Adversity does make you stronger,” Coughlin said. “They’ve had a couple of setbacks. But I think they’re prepared for this kind of thing, and I think they’ll come through this very strong.”
They were strong overall in June, going 20-7, the first time the Yankees have been at least 20-game winners in a calendar month since August 2009 and only the second time since 2004. The warm month has coincided with Robinson Cano heating up.
“I think he’s a really big part of it,” Girardi said. “He’s had some really big hits for us this month. He’s been a real force in the middle of our lineup. … He’s really started to swing the bat and it changes us for sure.”
He finished June with 11 homers in the month, although Cano insists he has been nothing different.
“That’s quite a pace,” Girardi said. “If he can do that every month, he can end up with a lot of homers.”
Cano hit his 19th overall, a solo shot that gave him at least one RBI against the White Sox in 10 straight games. No Yankee had done that since Babe Ruth in 1931.
Curtis Granderson sees room for improvement elsewhere.
“Hopefully if we all get on the same page, we can have an even better month in July than we did in June,” Granderson said. “It was definitely a good month.”
It doesn’t seem like Hiroki Kuroda can get much better. He was just outstanding again, matching his career high with 11 Ks and allowing three singles over seven, two of them coming in the first.
“I think the whole game, he was in control,” Chicago manager Robin Ventura said. “Moving it in and out … working the slider. He just never really gave anybody a good pitch to hit in a hitter’s count.”
Kuroda said through his interpreter that all the strikeouts kind of surprised him since he isn’t a power pitcher. He’s 5-1 with a 1.65 ERA over his last seven starts. Girardi thinks his arm strength has improved.
“I think I’ve been really aggressive lately,” Kuroda said.
Dewayne Wise has been getting a chance to play lately and he keeps showing up in the picture, be it flying into the stands for the catch that wasn’t really a catch, or pitching Friday night and retiring both batters he faced, or delivering a career-high-tying three hits as the starting left fielder in this game, including a solo drive to the second deck in right and an RBI double.
“It’s been crazy,” Wise said. “It’s been a lot of fun.”
Wise is 7 for 11 with five RBI on the homestand. He had four hits and no RBI in his 30 at-bats before this stretch.
“Just some opportunity and he’s taken advantage of it is what he’s doing,” Girardi said. “He’s swinging the bat real well.”
Sunday is Old-Timers’ Day. The ceremonies are scheduled to start at 11:15, and the Old-Timers’ game will follow. The series finale is scheduled for 2:05 with Phil Hughes and Gavin Floyd the pitching matchup. YES will televise the whole slate.
Yankees pregame • 04.13.12
Greetings, Brian Heyman here at Yankee Stadium for the home opener against the Angels. Opening Day for me coverage-wise. I’m 0-0.
The Yankees are 3-3, and they have made a change in the batting order. Instead of Curtis Granderson batting second, Robby Cano third and A-Rod fourth vs. the right-hander Ervin Santana, it’s Granderson, then A-Rod, then Cano 2-3-4. Joe Girardi said this will be his regular order now vs. righties. He rethought lefties Granderson and Cano batting back to back. A red flag went up during the Tampa Bay series, according to Girardi.
“We just feel that some of these clubs who have two left-handers and even the one left-hander, it makes it a little more difficult to navigate through,” Girardi said. “So we’re going to go with this and just try to make it more difficult on clubs when to bring the left-hander in.”
Jorge Posada is being brought in to throw out the ceremonial first pitch.
“I don’t really consider George an old-timer,” Girardi said. “You think sometimes of people throwing out the balls being retired for a while. I don’t really look at George that way. It was strange not seeing him in spring training this year.”
The fans will treat Posada rather warmly for this appearance.
“I think it’s a moment that he’s looking forward to,” Derek Jeter said. “It’s one he’s going to remember just coming off retirement a few months ago. I’m sure it probably feels a little odd to him coming from playing and then a couple of months later throwing out the first pitch.”
Like Jeter and Girardi, Albert Pujols met the media this morning. The $240 million man is off to a slow start at .217 with no homers and two RBI for the 2-4 Angels. He admits he has been pressing.
“I’m trying to do too much,” Pujols said. “We’re human. I’m a human. Sometimes that’s going to happen. No matter how good you prepare yourself, sometimes you want to press a little bit and try to do too much.”
It figures that Pujols’ Hall of Fame swing will be OK in the end. The Yankees pitchers will have to worry about him now with this switch to the AL.
“Our pitching staff is doing backflips in the clubhouse, real excited about him coming over,” Jeter cracked.
Pujols didn’t sound overly excited about playing at Yankee Stadium.
“I’ll tell you the truth, it’s no disrespecting the history of this organization, the Yankees, but I take it like every other park, getting here early, watching the video, getting prepared for the game,” Pujols said. “You’re out there and it’s just a game. Nothing changes. Obviously maybe the fans are louder. But everything else is the same. The game doesn’t change because you’re playing at Yankee Stadium. The rules are the same.”
Derek Jeter’s iconic No. 2 was baseball’s highest-selling jersey last year. Alex Rodriguez also cracked the Top 15, while Robinson Cano and Mariano Rivera made it into top 20. Neither Cano nor Rivera made the previous year’s list.
1. Derek Jeter, New York Yankees
2. Cliff Lee, Philadelphia Phillies
3. Albert Pujols, LA Angels of Anaheim
4. Josh Hamilton, Texas Rangers
5. Roy Halladay, Philadelphia Phillies
6. Tim Lincecum, San Francisco Giants
7. Dustin Pedroia, Boston Red Sox
8. Ryan Braun, Milwaukee Brewers
9. Hunter Pence, Philadelphia Phillies
10. Buster Posey, San Francisco Giants
11. Chase Utley, Philadelphia Phillies
12. Joe Mauer, Minnesota Twins
13. Justin Verlander, Detroit Tigers
14. Adrian Gonzalez, Boston Red Sox
15. Alex Rodriguez, New York Yankees
16. Ian Kinsler, Texas Rangers
17. Robinson Cano, New York Yankees
18. Mariano Rivera, New York Yankees
19. Carl Crawford, Boston Red Sox
20. David Freese, St. Louis Cardinals
The Pujols total includes both Cardinals and Angels jerseys; the Pence total includes both Astros and Phillies
Associated Press photo