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Masahiro Tanaka: “I think I have a chance” to help Yanks in September

The 10 fastballs that Masahiro Tanaka fired across the flat ground of Camden Yards’ outfield grass on Wednesday afternoon may not seem like much, but they represented another important step as the right-hander works to return to the mound this season.

Tanaka ramped up his velocity from the stretch position to make the tosses, his first at that effort level since sustaining a partial tear of his right ulnar collateral ligament in a July 8 start against the Indians in Cleveland.

“It’s feeling really good,” Tanaka said through an interpreter. “Really, I didn’t feel anything special compared to just regular tossing. I thought everything went well.”

Tanaka still needs to advance to throwing bullpens and batting practice, then facing hitters in games, but said that feels no pain in his elbow. Tanaka believes that it is possible he will make it back to the big leagues in September.

“I think I have a chance, if everything progresses the way I want it to and we want it to,” Tanaka said.

Each session without discomfort is encouraging to manager Joe Girardi, who said that Tanaka will have a scheduled day off from throwing on Thursday and then will get back to work in Florida on Friday.

“I think once you start seeing him in games, whether it’s a rehab game or a regular game, you’ll have a better idea really of where he’s at,” Girardi said.

Girardi said that he is keeping the light on for Tanaka to tack a few more starts onto what had been an extremely promising rookie campaign.

“That’s our hope,” Girardi said. “We wouldn’t be going through this if we didn’t expect him to pitch for us. Our hope is he’ll pitch in September.”

The Yankees announced an edit to their pitching rotation on Wednesday, slotting Hiroki Kuroda to face the Rays on Sunday at Tropicana Field.

Kuroda had initially been skipped altogether after Tuesday’s rainout against the Orioles, with Chris Capuano listed to make Sunday’s start.

Girardi explained that this will still give extra rest to Kuroda, who last pitched on Aug. 10 against the Indians in New York.

“We’re trying to stay proactive so he doesn’t fatigue down the stretch here,” Girardi said.

Kuroda is 7-8 with a 4.03 ERA in 24 starts this season and tired down the stretch last year, when he was 0-6 with a 6.56 ERA in his final eight starts. He said that an extra day here or there could make a difference for him.

“It’s really hard to rest during the course of the season,” Kuroda said through an interpreter. “When I’m in the season, it’s hard to feel rested. I’m glad that the team or the manager was considerate about giving me a rest.”

Kuroda, 39, said that he has made one small concession to last season’s August and September tailspin; he has decreased the number of pitches in his side sessions between starts by about 10 pitches, hoping to save those bullets for games.

Girardi said that the Yankees’ decision to give Kuroda some extra time is more of a preventative measure than based upon signs of wearing down.

“I think it’s really based on what happened last year,” Girardi said. “I know his last start wasn’t great, but the starts before that have been really good. Like I said, we’re trying to stay proactive, we’ve talked about it. I’ve been asked about it 1,000 times. So we’re trying to be proactive.”

The Yankees believe they will be able to activate catcher Brian McCann from the seven-day concussion disabled list when he is eligible on Saturday, Girardi said.

McCann sustained what the team called a mild concussion when he was hit by a foul tip in an Aug. 6 game against the Indians, and was placed on the disabled list the next day. McCann will join the team for their series against the Rays at Tropicana Field.

“He’ll be there Friday,” Girardi said. “He’ll go through BP and so far I think he feels good. He’ll be back when we can take him back.”

Girardi said that McCann resumed baseball activities on Tuesday and hit again on Wednesday in New York, and has already passed the Major League Baseball-mandated ImPACT test to play in games.


Paul O’Neill’s career celebrated with Monument Park plaque

Paul O'Neill Monument ParkFor a generation of fans, Paul O’Neill will forever be remembered as “The Warrior,” the emotional leader of a Yankees dynasty that celebrated four World Series championships in five seasons.

O’Neill spent his final nine seasons in pinstripes, and as the chants of his name echoed throughout Yankee Stadium, it was impossible not to recall the right fielder’s tearful and memorable final home game in the 2001 World Series.

His place in the new Stadium is now secure; the Yankees unveiled a bronze Monument Park plaque to honor O’Neill in a pregame ceremony on Saturday afternoon.

“I hope it came across how big of an honor it is,” O’Neill said. “It was an unbelievable thing, to look behind yourself and see your kids and see your wife, your mom and your brothers here. You just know that you were part of something big here. That, I’m proud of.”

There are seven monuments and now 29 plaques in Monument Park, with O’Neill scheduled to be the final inductee of the summer. Goose Gossage, Tino Martinez and Joe Torre were recognized with plaques earlier this season, and the Yankees plan to celebrate Bernie Williams’ career in 2015.

O’Neill’s mother, Virginia, and his wife, Nevalee, were among the family members on hand for Saturday’s ceremonies. The tribute also included appearances by David Cone, Gene Monahan, Tino Martinez, Torre, Jorge Posada, Mariano Rivera and Derek Jeter.

“It was a great day just to remember, sitting there talking to Jorge and Tino and Joe Torre and Mariano,” O’Neill said. “These guys go out of their way to come back and that means a lot. You spend every single day with these guys when you’re playing and then you don’t see them for a while, but as soon as you get back together, it’s like you never left.”

Paul O'Neill plaqueO’Neill started his career with the Reds, where he won the 1990 World Series, and his career took a turn with a Nov. 3, 1992 trade to the Yankees for outfielder Roberto Kelly. Torre said that O’Neill became “part of the glue that kept this thing together.”

“This whole group never admired what they had accomplished,” Torre said. “They always kept wanting to accomplish more, which was great for me. They never got tired of winning. A lot of times you win the World Series and say, ‘Oh, I got mine,’ and then you celebrate the rest of your career. But these guys kept wanting to do more.”

A five-time All-Star, O’Neill helped raise the championship trophy in 1996, but he said it was the loss to the Indians in the 1997 playoffs that galvanized the club’s spirit and rallied them to win the next three titles.

“You couldn’t get it off your mind,” O’Neill said. “I think the fear of going through that again helped us unbelievably and that’s why I think we won in ’98, ’99 and 2000.”

Yankees manager Joe Girardi said that the first thoughts that come to mind about O’Neill are his competitiveness and constant expectation of success.

“The intensity that he brought; I used to love what it brought out to him and the rest of us,” Girardi said.

There were the good times that O’Neill and his teammates would have playing cards in the back of the plane, and also the unforgettable episodes when O’Neill would inevitably make an out and punish his batting helmet or the water cooler. O’Neill’s golf clubs, Girardi noted, also weren’t immune to a tantrum.

“I laughed,” Girardi said. “I really believe that most players wish they felt comfortable doing that. It’s got to be a great release.”

O’Neill said that if he had a second chance, he might have changed a few things.

“If I had to do it all over again, would I get out of the camera’s view? Absolutely,” O’Neill said. “But at that point in time I wasn’t smart enough to wait and do that. That’s the neat thing about retiring: you look up at the video and there’s no strikeouts, there’s no errors. It’s all good stuff.”

As a Yankee, O’Neill batted .303 with 304 doubles, 185 home runs and 858 RBIs, claiming the 1994 American League batting title with a .359 average. In 2001, at age 38, he became the oldest player in history with at least 20 stolen bases and 20 homers in the same season (since surpassed by Gary Sheffield in 2007).

O’Neill said that he recalls disappointment on the cold November day that he learned his career was detouring to New York, feeling as though he hadn’t played well enough to stay with the Reds. He said that was quickly replaced by a sense of the Yankees’ history, a fabric that O’Neill is now permanently part of.

“Let’s face it: we’re all lucky to play for the New York Yankees, especially at that time,” O’Neill said. “It didn’t take long to feel the tradition and this team. You talk about the perfect time to come here; it started turning around and we started winning, and being part of that is something I’ll never forget.”

Brian McCann placed on seven-day concussion DL

The Yankees have placed catcher Brian McCann on the seven-day concussion disabled list. McCann was struck in the face mask by a Mike Aviles foul tip in the third inning on Friday, and was replaced by a pinch-hitter in the sixth inning.

Yankees manager Joe Girardi said that McCann seemed to be feeling “foggy” between innings. Austin Romine has been recalled from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.

With two Minor League rehab starts under his belt, Michael Pineda said that he is ready to rejoin the Yankees rotation, giving manager Joe Girardi a choice to make in advance of next week’s showdown with the division-leading Orioles.

Pineda fired 4 1/3 innings of one-run ball on Friday evening for Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre against Columbus, showcasing a fastball that sat between 92 and 94 mph as well as a swing-and-miss slider.

“Everything is good,” Pineda said on Saturday. “My pitches are there, my velocity is there. I’m feeling good and I’m happy with that.”

Pineda threw 72 pitches in the outing, scattering six hits while walking none and striking out seven. He said that he has not been told where his next start will be, but feels prepared to face big league hitters.

“I’m feeling great. Everything is normal,” Pineda said.

The Yankees had said that they wanted Pineda to reach 90 pitches in a Minor League rehab start before activating him, but David Phelps’ injury has changed the landscape.

Esmil Rogers pitched well in a spot start on Friday, holding the Indians to a run over five innings. Girardi said that Pineda and Rogers will both have throw days on Sunday, providing the option of handing the ball to either pitcher on Wednesday in Baltimore.

“That’s something that we’ll have to talk about,” Girardi said. “(Pineda’s) next start, he could go to 90, but we’ll sit down and we’ll talk about it.”

Mark Teixeira said that it was “very painful” to attempt hitting off a tee and that he is not able to correctly grip the bat, but the Yankees first baseman is hopeful that he will be able to avoid the disabled list.

Teixeira sustained a laceration to his left pinky finger in Wednesday’s 5-1 Yankees victory over the Orioles, requiring three stitches. He said the cut is healing, but he is still only swinging at about 50 percent.

“The joint is really, really sore, and so whether it was sprained or bruised, we’re not sure exactly,” Teixeira said. “But the joint is really sore. The cut, you just wrap it up and you play. The joint, I can’t grip the bat.”

Yankees manager Joe Girardi said that Teixeira took some light batting practice in the underground cages on Saturday and reported some improvement.

“He felt better today; he took swings and felt better, so hopefully it’s not much longer with him and we’ll just take it day by day,” Girardi said.

Teixeira said that swinging would affect him more from the right side of the plate. Girardi said that if it appears that Teixeira would be out for six to seven days, the Yankees would give thought to placing him on the disabled list.

“Right now it’s working, what we’re doing,” Girardi said. “But we’ll just wait and see.”

The Yankees announced Saturday that they have unconditionally released infielder Brian Roberts, who was designated for assignment on Aug. 1. Roberts batted .237 with five homers and 21 RBIs in 91 games for the Yankees this season.

Masahiro Tanaka, David Phelps to pitch in at Stadium ticket windows

A little double duty for some of the Yanks’ players tonight. This alert from the Yankees:

Yankees players will be interacting with fans tonight at Yankee Stadium at the following times and locations:

· At 5:00 p.m., Yankees pitchers Masahiro Tanaka and David Phelps will be stationed behind the counters at Yankee Stadium Advance Ticket Windows, selling tickets and greeting fans (on E. 161st St. in between Gates 4 and 6).
· At approximately 5:30 p.m., several other Yankees pitchers will be working the registers at the Yankees Team Store behind home plate inside the Stadium.
· Also at approximately 5:30 p.m., Brendan Ryan will be selling programs, yearbooks and media guides in the Great Hall.

David Robertson impressed by Dellin Betances’ breakout season

Dellin BetancesOne of the best compliments that you could give to David Robertson’s season is that Mariano Rivera’s name has not come up very often, but just as much, the new closer has enjoyed watching Dellin Betances’ explosion into a premier setup man.

Even Robertson, having a fine year in his own right, was wowed by Betances’ appearance on Saturday at Fenway Park. The stadium scoreboard clocked two of Betances’ eighth-inning fastballs at 101 mph.

“How could you not have fun watching that?” Robertson said. “He threw 101. Wow! I’m lucky if I hit 93 and he’s pumping it in at 101.”

Betances’ 13.22 strikeouts per nine innings in 48 relief appearances (spanning 65 1/3 innings) are the highest mark in the Majors this season, as the right-hander has learned how to harness his two-pitch repertoire into terrific results.

“I definitely think he’s exceeded [expectations],” manager Joe Girardi said. “We knew he had great stuff. We knew this would be a year he had never really experienced before, in a sense, if he got on a roll. And that’s what he’s done.”

Robertson said that Betances’ electric stuff stands out, but there is still learning on the job. Betances was developed as a starting pitcher before being transitioned to the bullpen in the Minors back in 2012.

“You do have to get used to that workload,” Robertson said. “It takes a little bit of time. Obviously you need to figure out your body first; that was my biggest key. When I’m throwing 70 or 65 appearances a year, some of them come on back-to-back-to-back days, you have to be ready to say when we play catch, just play a little bit.

“You just know that your arm feels good and you can go out there and do the job you’re supposed to do.”

Masahiro TanakaThere will be a significant checkpoint in Masahiro Tanaka’s recovery on Monday, when the right-hander is scheduled to report to Yankee Stadium and could play catch for the first time since his right elbow injury.

Monday marks the three-week point from the date that Tanaka received a platelet-rich plasma injection, which the team hoped would promote healing of his partially torn ulnar collateral ligament.

“We’ll see tomorrow what everyone wants to do with him, but as we said, three weeks is the mark,” Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. “He feels good, so we’ll see what we do.”

Tanaka, 25, saw team physician Dr. Christopher Ahmad on Friday in New York and no issues were reported.

The injury interrupted a terrific debut season for Tanaka, who was 12-4 with a 2.51 ERA in his first 18 big league starts, earning selection as an American League All-Star. He was hurt in a July 8 start against the Indians in Cleveland, and is hoping to avoid season-ending Tommy John surgery.

When the injury was diagnosed last month, Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said that the best-case scenario of the prescribed rehab program would get Tanaka back on a Major League mound in six weeks.

It seems more likely, though, that Tanaka would return in September if he does make it back to the Majors in 2014. There is a long road ahead; essentially, what would be a second Spring Training for Tanaka.

“It’s not starting all over, because he’s been built up (stamina-wise),” Girardi said. “But it’ll be probably 60 feet, and then 60 and 90, and 90 and 120, then flat ground and bullpen and probably a rehab game.”

Michael PinedaMichael Pineda could be two starts away from re-joining the Yankees’ big league rotation.

Pineda worked 3 1/3 scoreless innings in a Minor League rehab start for Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre against Syracuse on Sunday, scattering three hits with a walk and four strikeouts.

“He threw the ball pretty well,” Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. “We’re pleased with the progress that he’s making and we’ll take another step.”

The right-hander, who has not pitched in the big leagues since April 23 because of a strained teres major muscle behind his pitching shoulder, tossed 58 pitches (37 for strikes).

Pineda’s next rehab start will come on Friday for a team yet to be determined, and he will throw about 75 pitches. Girardi said that Pineda would likely make one rehab start after that, increasing to 90 pitches, and then would be considered big league ready.

“At that point, you would feel from a pitch count he’s ready to join us,” Girardi said.

The Yankees were briefly concerned when Betances slipped on the mound in the eighth inning of Saturday’s 6-4 Yankees win over the Red Sox. He was fine, but it probably won’t be the last time you see the 6-foot-8 hurler overstride; Betances said that it can be difficult for him to keep his mechanics intact, but he’s working on it.

“I think I told you guys, it’s going to happen more than once and I’m sure it will happen again,” Betances said. “I slipped a little bit, and I tried to hold myself with the glove and I wasn’t able to do that. I just tried to make it look as good as possible, but it was not good.”

Carlos Beltran entered play on Sunday hitting .375 (21-for-56) with four homers and 12 RBIs in his last 15 games since July 18, a sign that the discomfort in his right elbow has been manageable.

“I think he’s just being the player that we thought he would be,” Girardi said. “It was just a matter of time, but I’m sure (the elbow) has something to do with that, and maybe getting used to the brace as well.”

On this date in 1959, Yogi Berra connected for his first and only All-Star Game home run. The third-inning blast off the Dodgers’ Don Drysdale helped to lead the American League to a 5-3 victory at Los Angeles’ Memorial Coliseum.


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