Castro filling role of run producer -- for now

April, 19, 2014
Apr 19
12:58
PM CT
Padilla By Doug Padilla
ESPNChicago.com
Archive
CHICAGO – Just because Starlin Castro has been more productive hitting in lineup spots after the cleanup man doesn’t mean he has found a permanent lineup home.

Chicago Cubs manager Rick Renteria said Saturday that if he has to commit to anything, he would lean on Castro’s lineup versatility rather than make him a permanent fixture in the No. 5 or 6 holes. But for now, anyway, he’s going to ride out any productive streak he can get his hands on.

“Actually, he's done a nice job there,” Renteria said about RBI spots like the five- and six-holes. “I don’t know if it’s any different than what he would be doing in the two-hole, but he’s doing a nice job, so we’ll keep him in a place that seems to give him comfort. But he’s not apt to stay there the whole year.”

Castro was batting fifth against the Cincinnati Reds on Saturday, but it’s actually the No. 6 spot where he has flourished. In five games as a No. 6 hitter, Castro is 9-for-20 (.450) with two doubles, two home runs, seven RBIs and an .850 slugging percentage. His combined numbers as a No. 5 and No. 6 hitter: 12-for-35 (.343).

In four games as a No. 2 hitter, Castro is a solid 6-for-17 (.353), but his run-producing opportunities are diminished. He has just one RBI and hasn’t produced an extra-base hit from the No. 2 spot.

The plan in previous years to turn Castro into a more patient hitter clearly didn’t work and it’s possible his stints in the situational-hitting No. 2 spot could end up working against him. It could help to explain why he has taken such a liking to batting lower in the order.

“Hopefully they have an understanding of who they are as hitters, but it sure is nice to have him out there in case there are runners on base in the heart of the order able to drive in runs,” Renteria said.

As long as there are others who can handle the No. 2 hole, Castro’s days in run-producing spots in the order will continue.

“Fortunately for us we have the flexibility in a lot of guys that can hit in that one- or two-slot in terms of Junior (Lake), (Emilio Bonifacio) and Starlin,” Renteria said. “Like I mentioned before, (Castro) has led off and has done well in the leadoff hole, but fortunately for us right now we can slot him that five- or six-hole.”

Renteria wants better focus from Cubs

April, 18, 2014
Apr 18
8:12
PM CT
By Sahadev Sharma
Special to ESPNChicago.com
Archive
CHICAGO -- When a team is on a losing streak and fails to score for two straight games, the last thing a manager wants to see is a lack of focus.

After the Chicago Cubs' 4-1 loss to the Cincinnati Reds on Friday -- their fifth straight defeat -- Cubs manager Rick Renteria seemed less concerned with his team pressing at the plate than what he deemed a poor approach to the game.

[+] EnlargeCubs
AP Photo/Nam Y. HuhWelington Castillo, center, agrees with manager Rick Renteria, not pictured, that the Cubs need better focus. Renteria says the team could learn from the approach of Jeff Samardzija, right.
"If our approaches are good, if we're really focused on what we're supposed to be doing, both at the plate and in the field, I'm good with it," a calm but clearly perturbed Renteria said. "Today, I think we were a little sloppy in general."

Renteria was then asked if there was anything he could do to rectify his team's apparent sloppiness.

"It's just a matter of focus," he said. "They know, I think our players know. It's a long season, but I think the reality is good clubs really do grind out every single game. That's what we want to become. I think it's a great lesson, because we're playing in a great division and we're gonna be competing against clubs that have been in the playoffs most recently. Hey, listen, nobody's going to give us anything, so we're going to go out there, and every single day, if we fall short in the way we're supposed to approach the game -- whatever it might be -- we'll talk about it if we have to and then we'll deal with it."

Renteria had no response when asked if he addressed the team about the lack of focus.

After going hitless in 13 opportunities with runners in scoring position in Wednesday's doubleheader against the New York Yankees, the Cubs didn't fare much better Friday, going 1-for-7 in those opportunities. The struggling outfield had a particularly poor day at the plate, with the trio of Ryan Sweeney, Junior Lake and Nate Schierholtz combining to go 0-for-12 with Lake striking out three times.

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Alfredo Simon leads Reds over reeling Cubs 4-1

April, 18, 2014
Apr 18
5:03
PM CT
video

CHICAGO -- Alfredo Simon lowered his ERA to 0.86, and the Cincinnati Reds beat the Chicago Cubs 4-1 Friday for their 16th win in their last 17 games at Wrigley Field.

Making his third start, Simon (2-1) allowed an unearned run in six-plus innings and sent the Cubs to their fifth straight loss. Simon is in the rotation while Mat Latos recovers from elbow and knee injuries.

Jonathan Broxton pitched a hitless ninth for his second save in two tries, completing a six-hitter for the Reds, who stretched their winning streak to a season-best three.

Jeff Samardzija (0-2) gave up three runs -- one earned -- and six hits in seven innings with seven strikeouts and two walks. He is 0-4 despite a 3.86 ERA in 10 starts since winning at San Diego on Aug. 24.


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ICYMI: SweetSpot hits of the week

April, 18, 2014
Apr 18
6:01
PM CT
Rosenberg By Jason Rosenberg
ESPNChicago.com
Archive
While driving home from work Thursday night, I was listening to the Rays' feed of the Yankees-Rays game when Derek Jeter made a "diving" play. The broadcasters chuckled at Jeter's lack of range and his natural succumbing to Father Time, saying something along the lines of "That's Jeter's range; however he can fall to his right and however he can fall to his left." An inning or so later, the maligned Yanks infield turned a triple play, so there you go. Without further ado, the best from around the SweetSpot Network, week 3:

Boston RedSox: FireBrand of the AL
A large cup of coffee: Jeff Polman catches up with former Red Sox starting pitcher Dana Kiecker. Who’s Dana Kiecker, you ask? He’s just the pitcher who followed Roger Clemens in the 1990 ALCS by starting Game 2. Follow on Twitter: @jpballnut.

Chicago Cubs: View From The Bleachers
Which pitchers have nasty stuff? If you missed the 10-strikeout performance put up on Wednesday afternoon by Masahiro Tanaka, it showed off his nasty stuff. Joe Aiello takes a look at what other pitchers have "nasty" stuff. Follow on Twitter: @vftb

Chicago White Sox: The Catbird Seat
The art of patience: Collin Whitchurch examines the White Sox offense's hot start as a product of a new organizational emphasis on plate discipline. Follow on Twitter: @cowhitchurch


Colorado Rockies: Rockies Zingers
What are the keys for pitching at Coors? and ¿Cuáles son la claves para lanzar en Coors Field? The debut of Sabermetrics in Spanish, Juan Pablo Zubillaga compares Rockies pitchers with non-Rockies pitchers and analyzes which metrics can indicate success for Rockies pitchers.

Milwaukee Brewers: Disciples of Uecker
The Brewers' line-driving frenzy: Jonathan Judge looks at the value and sustainability of the Brewers' high line-drive rate so far. Follow on Twitter: @bachlaw

New York Yankees: It's About The Money
How good could the 2015 infield really be? Matt Seybold wonders how the Yankees will go about filling the holes they will have in the 2015 infield. Follow on Twitter: @Sport_Hippeaux

How did the "pine tar" affect Pineda's performance? Michael Eder takes a look at what affects, if any, that mysterious blob of goo on Michael Pineda's hand had during his start against Boston. Follow on Twitter: @edermik

Philadelphia Phillies: Crashburn Alley
Phillies showing tremendous plate discipline: The Phillies are drawing plenty of walks, something they haven't done in a few years.

Some fun trivia on Cliff Lee's start against the Braves: Cliff Lee got the tough-luck loss on Wednesday but it made for some interesting trivia. Follow on Twitter: @CrashburnAlley

Tampa Bay Rays: The Process Report
Offense, Myers struggling: Jason Collette shows how 2014 looks a lot like 2011 in the early going for the Tampa Bay offense and why Wil Myers is struggling at the plate. Follow on Twitter: @processreport

Jason Rosenberg is the founder of It's About the Money, a proud charter member of the SweetSpot Network. IIATMS can be found on Twitter here and here as well as on Facebook.

Rapid Reaction: Reds 4, Cubs 1

April, 18, 2014
Apr 18
4:37
PM CT
By Sahadev Sharma
Special to ESPNChicago.com
Archive
video

CHICAGO -- Here's a quick look at the Chicago Cubs' 4-1 loss to the Cincinnati Reds:

How it happened: Cincinnati scratched across a run in the fifth to jump out to a 1-0 lead. Catcher Devin Mesoraco led off the inning with a single, stole second, advanced to third on Alfredo Simon's swinging bunt and scored when speedster Billy Hamilton blooped a double in between Junior Lake and Ryan Sweeney in shallow left-center field. The Reds added two unearned runs in the sixth when Jay Bruce and Ryan Ludwick scored when Emilio Bonifacio failed to turn a double play and his throw got past Anthony Rizzo. The Cubs ended 24-inning scoreless streak when Starlin Castro came around to score on Luis Valbuena's seventh-inning single. However, that was all the offense could muster, as another solid outing from Jeff Samardzija (seven innings, six hits, one earned run, seven strikeouts) was wasted.

What it means: Rizzo continues to hit (2-for-4) and Castro delivered a single, but not much else positive came from the offense. The outfield has been the biggest sore spot on the offense and that trend continued on Friday with Nate Schierholtz, Lake and Sweeney combining to go 0-for-12 with Lake striking out three times.

Outside the box: Jake Arrieta is expected to make his fourth rehab start of the year, this one at Triple-A Iowa on Monday. If all goes well, the hope is that Arrieta will rejoin the Cubs staff the next time through the rotation.

Up next: Edwin Jackson tries to get back on track after posting a 6.19 ERA in his first three starts of the season. He takes on the Reds and the fastball-heavy Tony Cingrani at 1:20 p.m. CT Saturday.

Brandon Phillips suffers back spasms

April, 18, 2014
Apr 18
3:11
PM CT

CHICAGO -- Cincinnati Reds second baseman Brandon Phillips left Friday's game against the Chicago Cubs because of back spasms.

Phillips appeared to get hurt swinging and missing during in the first inning. After a visit from manager Bryan Price and a trainer, Phillips singled.

Phillips struck out in the third, and the Reds said they replaced him with Ramon Santiago in the bottom half as a precaution.


(Read full post)


Arrieta expected to make final rehab start

April, 18, 2014
Apr 18
1:50
PM CT
By Sahadev Sharma
Special to ESPNChicago.com
Archive
CHICAGO -- Cubs pitcher Jake Arrieta is expected to make his fourth rehab start of the season on Monday, this time with Triple-A Iowa.

Arrieta
"He's doing well," Cubs manager Rick Renteria said of Arrieta, who was at Wrigley Field on Friday. "He'll be here to throw a side and let (pitching coach Chris Bosio) put his eyes on him."

Arrieta had made his previous three rehab starts with Double-A Tennessee, slowly building up his pitch count along the way, getting up to 82 pitches in his last outing on Wednesday. If all goes well, the hope is that Monday will be Arrieta's last rehab start and he'll re-join the big-league club the next time through the rotation.

OF struggles at center of Cubs' hitting woes

April, 18, 2014
Apr 18
1:46
PM CT
By Sahadev Sharma
Special to ESPNChicago.com
Archive
CHICAGO -- Pointing out that the Chicago Cubs' offense has struggled in the early goings of the season is stating the obvious. Through 14 games, the Cubs have averaged 3.36 runs per game, 13th in the National League and after being shutout in both ends of a doubleheader against the New York Yankees on Wednesday, they've now played four games where they've failed to cross home plate.

When focusing in on the outfield, the Cubs' offensive struggles become all the more glaring. So far, manager Rick Renteria has tried to play the matchups, attempting to give his team the platoon advantage. However, the early results haven't been too favorable.

[+] EnlargeJunior Lake
AP Photo/Matt YorkJunior Lake has gotten off to a solid start, posting an .826 OPS.
Nate Schierholtz had success in 2013 mainly playing against righties, however in 12 games he's putting up a line of .250/.260/.313 and the numbers in the outfield only get worse from there. Ryan Kalish: 11 games, .160/.250/.280, Ryan Sweeney: 11 games, .172/.242/.207 and Justin Ruggiano: nine games, .143/.250/.190.

Despite those weak numbers, Renteria has no plans to change things up.

"We're still trying to do the best we can with trying to match up guys and move them forward," Renteria said. "(We're) taking it slow with other guys, kind of helping them ingress into the big-league market here, so to speak. To me it's really early to make a determination if someone is ready to be changed out for another. These guys are all preparing the same way. I will be the last one to panic. I believe in all of these guys."

One guy Renteria has to be pleased with thus far is Junior Lake. The only regular outfielder (not counting Emilio Bonifacio, who also sees significant time in the infield) to see any success through two weeks, Lake is posting a respectable .826 OPS with two home runs, two doubles and a triple.

However, a deeper look at his numbers, particularly his .381 BABIP and eye-popping 36.6 percent strikeout rate, reveal his solid start may not be sustainable. If his numbers start to slip and the other continue to flounder, the production from the outfield would be next to nothing.

Renteria reiterated that it's too early to start thinking about changes or calling guys up from the minors just to shake things up. Overall, he believes his team has played well, they just haven't delivered in big situations often enough.

"Situationally the last couple days we've had some opportunities to be able to push some runs across," Renteria said. "Maybe we've become a little anxious with our approaches at the plate. Not putting ourselves in a position or the frame of mind that the pitcher is on the ropes in a particular situation. Maybe we get outside of ourselves a little bit wanting to do too much and I want these guys to stay relaxed.

"When they come into the ballpark, I want them to feel comfortable in their element. There's no reason for us as coaches to put them in a state of panic. They're frustrated just as much as anybody else is and I think the most important thing is to help them step away from that frustration."

After bouncing back from a horrible start with runners in scoring position, the Cubs went back to their struggling ways on Wednesday, going 0-for-13 in those situations on their way to getting shutout in a double header. Overall on the season, the team is batting .195/.271/.292 with runners in scoring position.

"We're a club that has to continue to learn to tack on runs or put teams away offensively," Renteria said. "I think you learn those experiences sometimes through failure. You kind of take a step back, 'What was it that was going on? I got a little accelerated or wanted to do too much.' Next time you take a step back, we've seen it, we've experienced it, let's see if we can get you in a better frame of mind the next time you get out there in that particular situation and see if you can come through."

Of course, as Renteria pointed out, even the proper process can end in a poor result.

"There are no guarantees, you can have the best approach in the world," Renteria said. "You can square up a ball and have someone make a play. The reality is that the calmer they become in the box in key situations, the better off they'll be. It's incumbent on (the coaching staff) that they see the calm in us, because if they see the panic in us, then you have a bigger problem."

Staying calm, getting some consistent offensive production, particularly from the outfield, and just getting some balls to bounce their way would all help the Cubs turn things around with the bats. But the fact is, it's not just with runners on that the Cubs are struggling, they're hitting .230/.292/339 on the season and that's with Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo having strong starts. This was an offense that many predicted to struggle and so far, they've lived down to expectations.

Series preview: Reds at Cubs

April, 18, 2014
Apr 18
9:00
AM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
Archive
CHICAGO -- The Chicago Cubs take on the Cincinnati Reds for the first time this season as they begin a stretch of 13 straight days of games.

The series:
• Friday, 1:20 p.m. CT: Jeff Samardzija vs. Reds' Alfredo Simon
• Saturday, 1:20 p.m. CT: Edwin Jackson vs. Reds' Tony Cingrani
• Sunday, 1:20 p.m. CT: Carlos Villanueva vs. Reds' Homer Bailey

Samardzija winless: Despite a 1.29 ERA, Friday’s starter hasn’t won a game. The Cubs finally scored some runs for Samardzija during his last start, but the bullpen blew the game before the Cubs pulled it out in the 11th inning. There is no pitcher in baseball going into the weekend with a lower ERA who doesn’t have at least one win this year.

Offensive drought: Between a rainout, off days and a doubleheader shutout sweep, the Cubs haven’t scored a run since last Sunday’s ninth inning in St. Louis. After starting the season on fire, Emilio Bonifacio has slowed down. Since getting the day off last Saturday he’s hitless in his past 13 at-bats over the course of the past three games. His batting average has dropped to .339.

Cellar fight: The Reds are just 1 1/2 games ahead of the Cubs in the standings but have won two in a row after starting the season 4-9. Joey Votto has been hot since moving to the No. 2 hole in their lineup.

Jeter feels for Cubs fans -- to a point

April, 17, 2014
Apr 17
4:03
PM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
Archive
NEW YORK -- The Chicago Cubs haven't exactly crossed the mind of retiring New York Yankees great Derek Jeter lately. The teams don't play each other often and the Yankees are consistently in a win-now mode.

The Cubs? Not so much.

Jeter
Jeter was asked between games of a doubleheader sweep on Wednesday if he could imagine going 105 years without a championship. The Yankees have won five since Jeter debuted for them in 1995 and 27 overall as a franchise.

"Can I imagine it? No," Jeter half-smirked. "I hear about it, but it's kind of hard to relate to it. But I've definitely heard about it. The Cubs have had some good teams there. It just goes to show you it's difficult to win a championship. They've had some great teams that have gotten close, but it's difficult to do."

Some might dispute how many great teams the Cubs have had but a Cubs/Yankees World Series almost happened in 2003. The Cubs famously lost to the Florida Marlins after leading three games to one. Jeter's Yankees were locked in a battle with the Boston Red Sox and the Cubs/Marlins series ended first.

"I'm well aware of the history and the tradition of the Cubs," he said. "I grew up in Michigan and was able to watch a lot of games on television. At the professional level, I've only been there once."

Jeter will get one more look at Wrigley Field before he retires. The Cubs host the Yankees in a two-game series in May. Just don't call it part of a farewell tour for him.

"I don't like the phrase farewell tour," Jeter said. "This is my last season, but I'm not going around shaking hands and kissing babies. We're trying to win."

Several Cubs have said they look up to Jeter and patterned their games and demeanor after him. Starlin Castro, Mike Olt and even minor leaguers Javier Baez and Albert Almora all described him as a favorite player.

"It makes you feel good anytime someone looks up to you and has nice things to say about you," Jeter said. "I remember when I met Cal Ripken Jr. I was a little timid to speak to him or approach him because you never view yourself that way."

Castro says he met Jeter once, at an All-Star Game. Jeter couldn't remember when it was and only knows him by his reputation.

"I haven't seen him play much," Jeter said. "I've heard a lot of good things about him. He's going to have a bright future. Hopefully when we go to Chicago I'll get a chance to talk to him more."

Cubs go down quietly in New York

April, 16, 2014
Apr 16
11:59
PM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
Archive
NEW YORK -- The Big Apple just took a bite out of the Chicago Cubs' offense.

On a long, cold day and night in the Bronx, the New York Yankees did just enough at the plate, while the Cubs did little there in losing 3-0 and 2-0 in a rare doubleheader shutout sweep. It’s the first time it has happened to the Cubs since June 27, 1962, against the St. Louis Cardinals, according to data from ESPN Stats & Information research.

"Both of them were good," Cubs shortstop Emilio Bonifacio said of Yankees starters Masahiro Tanaka and Michael Pineda. “Their breaking pitches were pretty good, both of them.”

And the Cubs aren’t very good. They just came off a decent seven games on offense but still went 3-4 last week. You get the feeling there will be more days like Wednesday over the course of the next 148 games. They’ve already been shut out four times in their first 14.

"They just have to keep playing. They have to keep getting after it and keep adjusting," Cubs manager Rick Renteria said.

Without much mystery to the talent on the team, the conversation turns back to playing time. Should Renteria play potential core players more, or is he doing a good job of protecting them by platooning?

"We have been giving everyone an opportunity to face as many guys as possible," Renteria said. "We’ll continue to evaluate and allow these guys to get into a rhythm if we can. Everybody has been getting a lot of at-bats. It’s really not for a lack of playing time."

But what’s the point if you’re simply not as talented as most of the league? The Cubs know this. If they’re going to lose 100 games, do it with a purpose. Ryan Kalish and Darwin Barney left a combined 11 runners on base in the nightcap on Wednesday. That does no one any good. At least if Mike Olt or Junior Lake struggle in that way, they can still actually get something out of it. Let’s face it, if Barney or Kalish are in a Cubs uniform in a year it will be a surprise to everyone. That’s not the case with Olt and Lake.

Olt struck out three times against Tanaka during the day game. He looked bad, but this is the time to let him struggle. The more he plays, the better he will be in the future. That’s common sense. The bottom line is the Cubs need to lose with some purpose. There was little of that in New York over the course of their 12 hours at Yankee Stadium.

Castillo bunting: Renteria indicated catcher Welington Castillo bunted on his own in the fifth inning of Game 2 on Wednesday night. With runners on first and second and none out, Castillo laid down a nice sacrifice, but it wasn’t what his manager wanted.

"We wanted him to swing the bat," he said.

The Cubs' Nos. 8 and 9 hitters were due up, as Kalish subsequently struck out and Barney flew out. Renteria has used the bunt often so far this season, so maybe Castillo thought it was the right move. It wasn’t.

Rapid Reaction: Yankees 2, Cubs 0 (Gm. 2)

April, 16, 2014
Apr 16
9:30
PM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
Archive


NEW YORK -- The Chicago Cubs dropped Game 2 of their doubleheader to the New York Yankees 2-0. Here’s a quick look:

How it Happened: The Yankees scored single runs in the fourth and fifth innings while starter Michael Pineda pitched six scoreless innings in Game 2 as the Yankees shutout the Cubs twice on Wednesday. Three singles in the fourth off of Travis Wood plated their first run, then three more in the fifth got them their second. Pineda wasn’t as dominating as Masahiro Tanaka was in the matinee, but he was plenty good. He gave up just four hits and a walk while striking out three. He gave up one, two-out extra base hit in the sixth to Anthony Rizzo, but that was quickly forgotten about when Nate Schierholtz popped out. The Yankees’ bullpen got into some trouble as the tying runs were on second and third in the ninth, but Ryan Kalish grounded out to end the game. He stranded six himself, while Darwin Barney left five men on base. Wood gave up 11 hits but 10 were singles and he didn’t walk a batter.

Key early moment: It came in the fifth with the Cubs trailing 1-0 and men on first and second with none out. Cubs manager Rick Renteria had Welington Castillo bunt the runners over with his No. 8 and No. 9 hitters up. Kalish struck out while Barney flew out. Rally and inning over.

What it means: An offense that had scored four or more runs in 7 straight games came to an abrupt halt on Wednesday. The cold weather and good Yankees’ pitching had something to do with it, but the Yankees had to hit some good Cubs pitching in the same conditions. They got the job done. Kalish has regressed from spring training, while Barney is getting limited starts and not doing much at the plate either. In 18 innings of baseball on Wednesday the Cubs had nine hits, while the Yankees had 17 in two less innings at the plate. That tells the story of the day and night right there.

Bosio tossed: Pitching coach Chris Bosio was thrown out of the game in the seventh inning after arguing balls and strikes from the dugout.

What’s next: The Cubs are off again on Thursday before starting a run of 13 consecutive days of games starting with Friday’s contest at Wrigley Field with the Cincinnati Reds. Jeff Samardzija takes on Alfredo Simon.

NEW YORK (AP) -- Michael Pineda followed an overpowering outing by Masahiro Tanaka with one of his own, pitching six innings of four-hit ball as the New York Yankees beat the Chicago Cubs 2-0 on a bitterly cold Wednesday night to complete its first doubleheader shutout sweep since 1987.

Tanaka (2-0) struck out 10 and allowed just two bunt hits -- one replay aided -- over eight innings in a 3-0 win in the opener of the day-night twinbill. Carlos Beltran homered for a third straight game, off Jason Hammel in the first inning of the Cubs' first regular-season game at the current Yankee Stadium.

The 25-year-old Japanese right-hander struck out 10 for his second straight start, this time while wearing three-quarter sleeves on a 43-degree day that felt much colder because of a brisk wind. Tanaka (2-0) gave up a replay-aided hit to Junior Lake in the second inning, and Anthony Rizzo pushed a bunt toward a vacated third base with a shifted infield leading off the seventh.

Tanaka has 28 strikeouts in 22 innings, the most strikeouts for a Yankees pitcher in his first three career starts, according to the Yankees via the Elias Sports Bureau.

Tanaka threw 107 pitches, and Shawn Kelley allowed a single to Rizzo as he finished the three-hitter for his fourth save.

"It was cold out there and I did feel it but I was able to control myself, control the grip and manage myself to pitch the way I did today," Tanaka said.


(Read full post)


Yankees unveil Mandela plaque

April, 16, 2014
Apr 16
7:13
PM CT
[+] EnlargeNelson Mandela
AP Photo/New York YankeesThe Yankees honored the late Nelson Mandela, South Africa's first black president, with a plaque in Monument Park as part of their Jackie Robinson Day festivities.

NEW YORK -- There have been few press conferences at Yankee Stadium like the one held Wednesday, and few ceremonies like the one the New York Yankees put on Wednesday night.

The connection to baseball was slight, but it was enough.

As the Yankees honored Nelson Mandela, Yankees president Randy Levine said, "There's nobody more deserving of being in Monument Park."

The Yankees unveiled Mandela's plaque between games of their day-night doubleheader with the Chicago Cubs, adding it next to those honoring former Yankee stars, owners and announcers, and also the three Popes who have appeared at the stadium.

Mandela appeared at the old stadium on June 21, 1990, on his first trip outside of Africa after being released from prison. Reports at the time said that the stadium rocked with a chant of "Amandla!" the Zulu word for power.

During that trip to New York, Mandela put on a Yankee jacket and Yankee cap, and said, "You know who I am. I am a Yankee."

The Yankees kept those words in mind, and after Mandela died last year, they knew they wanted to honor him.


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Tanaka worth the money so far

April, 16, 2014
Apr 16
5:27
PM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
Archive
NEW YORK -- He says he won't know for sure that choosing the New York Yankees was the right decision until "the end" but pitcher Masahiro Tanaka seems to be fitting in nicely for the team that bid the highest for the former Japanese star.

The Cubs tried to lure him to Chicago over the winter, but Tanaka chose the Yankees because they gave him the "highest evaluation," he said through an interpreter after beating the Cubs on Wednesday afternoon. That "evaluation" could mean the highest contract as Tanaka signed a seven-year, $155 million deal with New York. The Cubs wouldn't go higher than six years and $120 million.

"I did consider all the teams that wanted me," Tanaka said. "I looked at them evenly. I looked at all the teams very seriously."

Tanaka threw eight shutout innings while striking out 10 and giving up just two infield hits against the Cubs, who saw firsthand what could have been if he had chosen them. He was every bit as good as advertised in lowering his ERA to 2.05 with 28 strikeouts in 22 innings.

"He was good," Cubs manager Rick Renteria said. "That splitty isn't one you want to sit on. As guys were coming in they were saying 'It looks like a fastball.'"

Tanaka worked both sides of the plate and even snuck a few fastballs by Cubs hitters. Mike Olt looked overmatched, striking out three times.

Tanaka was asked if dominating the Cubs confirmed his decision to choose New York over them.

"I don't look at it that way," he said. "It's just one game. I definitely don't look at it that way."

Tanaka didn't want to re-visit his sit down with Theo Epstein and the rest of the Cubs' contingent which visited him in California in January, and it's uncertain if he would have chosen the Cubs had they been the highest bidder.

"I'll know at the end if the right choice was made to come to the Yankees or not," Tanaka said.

SPONSORED HEADLINES

TEAM LEADERS

BA LEADER
Anthony Rizzo
BA HR RBI R
.345 2 8 9
OTHER LEADERS
HRA. Rizzo 2
RBIA. Rizzo 8
RA. Rizzo 9
OPSA. Rizzo .926
WJ. Hammel 2
ERAJ. Samardzija 1.29
SOJ. Samardzija 22