What we've learned after the first 13 games

April, 14, 2014

NEW YORK -- With the 7-6 New York Yankees tied for first place, here's our initial impressions after the first 13 games:

1. Beltran: Please, God, don't hit it to me: Carlos Beltran stood at first base praying the ball wouldn't be hit to him. A three-time Gold Glove winning outfielder, Beltran had never played first at any level.

"I was like, 'Please, God, hit the ball the other way, somewhere else, shortstop, second base,'" Beltran said after being forced to first because of all the Yankees injuries Sunday in their 3-2 win over the Boston Red Sox. "God looked out for me. I appreciate that."


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The Yankees are franchise rich in a lot of things, but backup first basemen isn't one of them. With Mark Teixeira out and Derek Jeter and Brian Roberts hurting, Yankees manager Joe Girardi started Francisco Cervelli at first base. Cervelli had played first base only once before, last Tuesday.

In the fourth, Cervelli ran hard down the first-base line, blew out his hamstring and is now headed to the disabled list. Since Girardi wanted to use Jeter only in an emergency, he searched his lineup card for possibilities. He came up with Beltran or Ichiro Suzuki.

Girardi asked both Ichiro and Beltran if either had ever played first. They both said they had not.

"If he had said, 'Go to first,' I might've said, 'I have a hurt leg,'" Ichiro said through his translator and with a laugh.

Girardi chose Beltran based on his bigger frame and put Ichiro in right. In the eighth, Ichriro made a tremendous catch against the wall to rob David Ortiz. It is a play Beltran might not have made.

Meanwhile, no balls were hit to Beltran at first. In the sixth, he completed a 6-3 groundout. In the seventh, he finished off a 5-3 putout.

"I hope I don't have to do it again," Beltran said, smiling.

What Beltran continues to do is hit. He went 3-for-4 with another home run, a two-run shot in the third that gave the Yankees the lead for good. He has hit homers in consecutive days and is tied for the Yankees' lead with three long balls.

2. Captain's concerns: It sounds like Jeter's quad is not a serious injury, but considering Jeter played only 17 games last year, this is still a wait-and-see situation.

Girardi said Jeter was mad on Sunday when the manager told his shortstop he would not be in the lineup for a second straight day.

Jeter has looked good at the plate, hitting .286. At times during the spring, he looked very lost.

3. Tanaka adjusts: You want a good sign after two starts about Masahiro Tanaka? Try this one: Tanaka has the best strikeout-walk ratio of anyone in baseball.

It is only two starts, but Tanaka's struck out 18 and walked just one. Next on the list is Felix Hernandez with 30 strikeouts and two walks. This stat is not the end all, be all, because CC Sabathia is seventh so far in the category.

Still, the point is Tanaka, with all the hype, has adjusted well. He looks like he has a lot of six- or seven-inning, two- or three-run games in that right arm. Tanaka's next start is on Tuesday against the Cubs.

4. Pineda proving it: If Michael Pineda never hurt himself and put these two starts up in 2012, he would be setting New York abuzz. As it is, Yankees fans are becoming pretty excited about Pineda -- as they should be. Since the beginning of the spring, he has been the Yankees' best pitcher.

In his second start, Pineda pumped up his fastball to 95 mph. Combining that with a devastating slider, the Yankees may have a top-of-the-rotation starter in their 25-year-old arm.

By the way, not only are the Yankees winning the Jesus Montero trade because of Pineda, but Jose Campos, too, the other pitcher in the trade. The 21-year-old impressed several Yankees with his stuff during the spring. Meanwhile, Montero is struggling at Triple-A, and the Mariners gave up on Hector Noesi, who is now a Ranger.

5. Bullpen questions: Besides injuries, if you asked me the biggest area of concern so far, I would say the bullpen. However, there are some good signs.

With David Robertson out, Shawn Kelley is the closer. Kelley still needs to prove he is consistent enough to be an eighth-inning guy. I'm not positive on that one yet, though he looked pretty good again Sunday night, picking up his third save.

Adam Warren and Dellin Betances could challenge Kelley for the eighth-inning spot. Both young guys have thrown heat and looked very good in the process. David Phelps is also in the mix.

So there is some upside with this group, but they are untested.

6. CC's Velo: It is hard to imagine CC Sabathia ever dominating again with a 90-mph fastball. We have already seen it in his first three starts, where he can get buy for a few innings but then is beat by one or two mistakes. At 94-95 mph, you can get away with more.

Can Sabathia reinvent himself into a No. 2 or 3 with his softer stuff? Yes, he can. He has showed that he can still get guys out.

7. McCann's a pro: Brian McCann has started a little slow, but the guy is a pro. You can tell why he was very popular in Atlanta. The pitchers really love throwing to him because he takes as much pride in his defense as his offense.

8. Injuries: The Yankees have already been bit hard by the injury bug. Three of them were sort of predictable. Teixeira, Roberts and Jeter have all been hurt in recent years. Like Robertson, the Yankees don't really have a replacement for Teixeira. They will likely need contributions from both Robertson and Teixeira if they are going to make the playoffs.

9. Gotta call Sol: Yangervis Solarte has been the biggest surprise of the season. After barely beating out Eduardo Nunez for the last roster spot, you could make a case that he has been the MVP for the Yankees for the first 13 games. It wouldn't be a winning case, but he is at least in the conversation. That's pretty good for "Never Nervous Yangervis."

10. 2-for-3: Ivan Nova has been good Nova twice and bad Nova once. This is the year Nova could graduate to a top of the starting rotation. On Sunday night, he had his best start, going 7 1/3 innings, allowing two runs against the Red Sox.

[+] EnlargeIvan Nova
Adam Hunger/USA TODAY SportsIvan Nova remained sharp in his second win.
His first start in Houston, where he pitched with only his fastball working, was actually encouraging because he went 5 2/3 innings against the Astros and gave up only two runs. That's pretty good with one pitch.

11. Built for the Bronx: The Yankees thought Kelly Johnson's left-handed swing was perfect for Yankee Stadium. During this first homestand, he has made the front office look pretty good. Johnson has three homers, which is tied for the team lead. He's hit them all at home.

12. Ells of a start: In the first year of his seven-year deal, you had to feel that Jacoby Ellsbury would deliver, if healthy. He is an impressive player to watch every day. He brings a dynamic speed game that the Yankees haven't had much of in recent years. He finished off Sunday night's game with a nice sliding catch off Grady Sizemore that not every center fielder snares.

13. Legends don't go quietly: Ichiro's position was supposed to be left out, but future Hall of Famers don't go quietly. Ichiro has appeared in nine games and has contributed a lot both at the plate and in the field. He is hitting .421 in 19 at-bats.

Even though he didn't have much of an argument considering his offensive numbers the past few years, he has handled his demotion with class. He is putting himself in position for more playing time.

Question: What have you thought of the first 13 games?
Andrew Marchand is a senior writer for ESPNNewYork. He also regularly contributes to SportsCenter, Baseball Tonight, ESPNews, ESPN New York 98.7 FM and ESPN Radio. He joined ESPN in 2007 after nine years at the New York Post. Follow Andrew on Twitter »



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Masahiro Tanaka
13 2.77 141 136
BAJ. Ellsbury .271
HRB. McCann 23
RBIB. McCann 75
RB. Gardner 87
OPSB. Gardner .749
ERAH. Kuroda 3.71
SOH. Kuroda 146