Sanchez gets the call

New York Yankees catcher Gary Sanchez prepares to catch the ball in the bullpen during a spring training workout Friday, Feb. 19, 2016, in Tampa, Fla. Photo Credit: AP / Chris O’Meara

With the Yankees’ offense sputtering and some lineup regulars out with injuries, the team has called up catching prospect Gary Sanchez for this weekend’s series against the White Sox.

With Brian McCann being one of the most durable catchers in the game, it is surprising to see Sanchez called up this early in the season with McCann at full strength. The Yankees will start Sanchez at designated hitter on Friday with White Sox southpaw Chris Sale on the mound.

It could be a short stint in the Bronx for Sanchez. Another lefty, Jose Quintana, starts on Saturday. Perhaps the Yankees call up Rob Refsnyder after that. Or Sanchez could stick around as the DH until Alex Rodriguez returns from the disabled list.

Sanchez made his major league debut at the end of 2015 and got two at-bats. He played 27 games at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre this season, hitting .288 with 11 doubles, five home runs and 21 RBI. The 23-year-old catcher has displayed a good bat throughout his seven seasons in the minor leagues, hitting .275 with 94 home runs and a .339 on-base percentage in 2,518 MiLB plate appearances.

McCann is signed through the 2019 season and would seem to block Sanchez’s path to a regular job. It also doesn’t make sense to have a talented young player resigned to a backup role where he plays once a week. So perhaps Sanchez’s future in the Bronx is as a DH – or in some part-time role with McCann between the two positions.

He will get a tough test against Sale tonight but it will be interesting to see how Sanchez fares at the big league level. The Yankees sure could use a bat like his.

The Wall Street Journal recently did a story on the Mets and how the team has relied heavily upon the home run this season. Click here to read it.

Does that sound familiar, Yankees’ fans?

Entering Wednesday’s game in Los Angeles, the Mets had scored 77 of 139 runs via the home run. That’s ahead of the record pace of 53.1 percent of runs via homers set by the Blue Jays in 2010. Tampa Bay (56.5 percent), the Mets (55.4), Baltimore (53.2) and Seattle (51.4) are scoring the majority of runs via the long ball this season.

The Mets will certainly take runs any way they can get them. The question is, can the team sustain this homer-happy pace?

Yoenis Cespedes leads the team with 11 home runs. Neil Walker is second with nine and is followed by Lucas Duda (7) and Curtis Granderson (6). Noah Sydergaard (2) and Bartolo Colon (1!) have also contributed.

Walker almost certainly won’t keep up his power hitting. He’s on pace for 45.6 home runs yet his career high is 23, which he set playing in 137 games in 2014.

Cespedes is on track for 59.4 homers. His career high is 35, which he set last year between Detroit and New York.

The Mets are tied with the Cardinals with 51 home runs for first place in the majors. Mets’ hitters rank 16th with 57 doubles. So expect some of those home runs to turn into doubles and balance things out for the offense in the weeks and months to come. As long as the Mets are still getting runners on base, those doubles are still going to result in runs.

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Yankees to call up Ben Gamel

New York Yankees' Ben Gamel and Minnesota Twins' John Ryan Murphy watche Gamel's hit to right during a spring training baseball game against the Minnesota Twins on , Sunday, March 20, 2016, in Fort Myers, Fla. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

With Alex Rodriguez recently landing on the DL – pitcher James Pazos took his spot on the 25-man roster – and Brett Gardner dealing with a sore elbow, the Yankees have called up Triple-A outfielder Ben Gamel.

Gamel, who turns 24 later this month, was a 10th round pick in the 2010 draft out of Bishop Kenney, a Jacksonville, Fla. high school. Darren O’Day and Jonathan Papelbon are also Bishop Kenney grads.

In seven seasons in the minors, the left-handed hitting Gamel is a .284 hitter with 21 home runs and 269 RBI. He can play all three outfield spots, but has primarily played in left and center. He’s also drawn a decent amount of walks in his career, as his .341 on-base percentage attests.

So Gamel isn’t going to save the Yankees’ offense but he gives the team a pretty good Brett Gardner clone in the meantime. He had a solid 2015 season in Scranton, hitting .300 with 28 doubles, 14 triples and 10 homers over 129 games. He was batting .286 with one double, one triple and one homer through 23 games this season at Triple-A.

There’s no indication yet who the Yankees will swap off the roster to make this move. They could send down Pazos or another pitcher or he could plug in for Gardner should he land on the disabled list as well. The Yankees could also use this opportunity to use a Gamel-Ellsbury-Hicks outfield and use Carlos Beltran as DH until Rodriguez returns.

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Meet El Duque at a Rockland Boulders game

The Rockland Boulders host the Cuban National team for a three-game series this June and former Yankees pitcher Orlando Hernandez – “El Duque” – will be on hand for the June 24 game.

Hernandez will throw out the game’s first pitch. Fans may also purchase an El Duque premium pack for $99 that includes a ticket to the game, food and drinks and a private meet and greet with Hernandez.

Rockland opens the season on Thursday, May 19 with a 7 p.m. game against the Sussex County Miners.

Visit RocklandBoulders.com or call 845-364-0009 for more information.

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What’s wrong with the Yankees’ offense?

New York Yankees' Alex Rodriguez, right, has a word with home plate umpire Alan Porter (64) after a called strike as Boston Red Sox's Christian Vazquez, center, throws back to the mound during the first inning of a baseball game in Boston, Sunday, May 1, 2016. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)

Through May 1 games, the Yankees are 8-15 and sit six games back in the AL East cellar.

Since April 12, the team has scored more than four runs in a game just twice – a 6-3 win on April 22 and last night in an 8-7 loss at Fenway Park.

What’s wrong with the Yankees’ offense?

Let’s take a quick look at some American League team batting stats.

The Yankees are second-to-last in runs scored with 81. Second-to-last in hits with 179. 12th out of 15 teams with a .305 on-base percentage.

Second-best with 166 strikeouts. (The Angels are first with 129).

League-average in walks drawn, double plays hit into and at-bats per home run.

The Yankees are dead last in the AL East with 51 extra base hits and a .365 team slugging percentage.

That’s your problem right there.

Through 23 games, the Yankees have hit 23 home runs, which is behind last year’s pace but right on track with seasons before that.

It’s the 25 doubles that have to be troubling to the Yankees.

The team has gotten runners on base and haven’t been able to get those big hits to bring runners home. With a relatively slow lineup, especially in the middle with Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, Brian McCann and Carlos Beltran, extra base hits are the way to get those guys across the plate.

Pitching hasn’t been the team’s problem so far. Nathan Eovaldi and Michael Pineda have allowed too many homers and CC Sabbathia isn’t the strikeout machine he once was, but the arms have been fine for the most part.

Will this team start finding those clutch hits soon? The Yankees open a three-game series in hitter-friendly Oriole Park on Tuesday and that could be a spark. The lineup will certainly have to score some runs to keep up with a hard-hitting Baltimore lineup.

The Mets had a pretty great offseason by most accounts, adding Neil Walker and Asdrubal Cabrera to the middle infield and resigning outfielder Yoenis Cespedes.

If there was one question about the Mets’ lineup heading into 2016 it was probably Michael Conforto. His postseason heroics aside, how was the young outfielder going to handle a full-time starting job?

Pretty well.

Through his first 23 games, Conforto is hitting .342 with 11 doubles, four homers and 18 RBI. He’s also drawn nine walks and struck out 18 times for a .418 on-base percentage. His offensive runs above replacement level so far is 10, which is highest on the team. Yoenis Cespedes and Neil Walker have 9 oRAR so far.

There is still plenty of season left to play and Conforto has really yet to hit against lefties at the big league level but Mets fans have to be pleased with the play of their young left fielder. He was a very bright spot in a month full of them so far for the Mets.

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Local family sends Robinson artifact to Cooperstown

The Baseball Hall of Fame recently posted an interesting item to its website. Here’s the link.

Jackie Robinson was a guest speaker for a trade group event in Kerhonkson in Sept. 1972, just a month before his death.

The Late Al Lonstein of Ellenville had a tape recording of a brief interview with Robinson and his family donated the tape to the Hall of Fame.

Check out the link for more on a great story.

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A rough day for Yankees, Pineda

New York Yankees starting pitcher Michael Pineda reacts during the first inning of a baseball game against the Tampa Bay Rays on Sunday, April 24, 2016, in New York. (AP Photo/Adam Hunger)

I was driving back from the Kingston Classic today and could only hear about Michael Pineda‘s dreadful start on the radio.

That was more than enough to paint a picture of the lowest point of the Yankees’ already low 2016 season.

After recording two quick outs in the top of the first, Pineda ran into trouble against a weak-hitting Tampa Bay Rays lineup. Double, homer, single, double, homer and double in order gave the Rays an early five-run lead and that turned into an 8-1 Tampa Bay win.

Pineda wound up lasting five innings – the Yankees head out on a Texas-Boston-Baltimore road trip and didn’t want to kill the bullpen – but he gave up four home runs in the loss. The right-hander came to New York with such promise after his 2014 debut in pinstripes but has battled some injuries ever since. Now it seems he’s battling himself to stop throwing pitches over the plate that are getting hammered all over the place.

According to BrooksBaseball.net, Pineda threw 45 fastballs today and only 24 of those went for strikes. The velocity is there – he maxed out at 95.6 MPH – but the location was not. When he wasn’t missing the strike zone, he was throwing meatballs over the heart of the plate that didn’t fool the Rays one bit. He got only four whiffs on his fastball and couldn’t find the corners in a loss that drops the Yankees to 7-10 and bottom in the AL East.

It’s far from over but this is a tricky start to the season for a team that figured to score a bunch of runs and rely on its bullpen to lock things down in the late innings. Instead, the offense can’t produce runs and the starting pitching has been awfully suspect. Things won’t get any easier in the interim as the team takes on AL East-leader Baltimore and AL West-leader Texas in six of its next nine games.

If the pitching performance wasn’t enough, the Yankees scored one measly run as the offense continues to sputter.

Designated hitter Alex Rodriguez left the game with left oblique stiffness and will go for an MRI. His status will be determined after the test.

The Yankees were already playing with a 24-man roster as outfielder Aaron Hicks is out after injuring his left shoulder on Friday. Hicks hopes to return without needing a stint on the disabled list, but A-Rod’s status may force the Yankees to make a transaction before a tough road trip begins Monday in Texas.

A-Road was hitting .132 with two home runs and five RBI coming into Sunday’s game.

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Syndergaard’s remarkable start

New York Mets starting pitcher Noah Syndergaard. (AP photo)

Noah Syndergaard struck out eight and walked one, holding Philadelphia to five hits over seven innings last night in a 5-2 win for the Mets.

In three starts this season, he’s 2-0 with 0.99 ERA and has struck out 29 and walked four over 20 innings.

As the Mets wait for Steven Matz and Matt Harvey to settle down and for Jacob deGrom to return, Syndergaard has been every bit the ace the club hoped he would be when they acquired him in a trade from Toronto.

What sets Syndergaard apart from the pack is his ridiculous velocity. In last night’s game, Snydergaard threw 12 pitches that hit 100 MPH or more on the radar gun. Seven MLB teams have had fewer 100 MPH pitches since the start of the 2008 season.

According to the Pitch f/x data at BrooksBaseball.net, Syndergaard averages 98.73 MPH on his fastball, 98.89 on his sinker and 92.73 on his slider. Most pitchers lose five or six miles per hour from their fastball to their slider and Syndergaard is no different. But when his fastball sits near 100 MPH, a 92-93 MPH slider with some sideways movement becomes darn near impossible to hit. Syndergaard got six swings-and-misses on the slider last night and that, probably more than anything else, will be key to his success the rest of the season.

The Yankees, 5-6 after the first two weeks of the season, start a three-game series against Oakland at the Stadium tonight.

It’s been a season of highs and lows for the Yankees so far. The bullpen has been fantastic but the starting pitching, aside from Masahiro Tanaka, has been sub-par.

The lineup has some really right spots in Brian McCann, Starlin Castro, Brett Gardner and Carlos Beltran and some other players who are off to a sluggish start: Didi Gregorius, Chase Headley, Jacoby Ellsbury and Alex Rodriguez.

Joe Girardi has tweaked the lineup around recently and it will be interesting to watch to see this week if he can find a combination that clicks.

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Fastball velocity concerns for deGrom

One topic that came up in the postgame press conference today – after all the talk of his soon-to-be-born baby situation – was Jacob deGrom‘s fastball velocity.

In Friday’s start against the Phillies, deGrom wasn’t taxed too hard, throwing 76 pitches over six innings against a pretty darn weak Phils lineup. He threw 28 four-seam fastballs at an average velocity of 92.8 MPH and 15 two-seamers, also at an average clip of 92.8. (Stats via the incomparable BrooksBaseball.net.)

Last season, deGrom’s four-seam fastball averaged 96.13 MPH in June, 96.05 in July and 95.92 in October. He was throwing his fastball at 94.89 MPH last April.

Both deGrom and Terry Collins downplayed the data after the game.

One, it was pretty cold and windy and perhaps deGrom wasn’t able to get as loose as he would like. That can take a bit off the fastball.

Two, the Mets’ run to the World Series left deGrom with a shorter offseason than he’s ever had before, so it may take him a while to get that velocity back. This had been an issue throughout spring training as well.

Three, deGrom left the game after six innings with tightness in his right lat. Collins and deGrom don’t think it’s too serious but they’ll see what he feels like on Saturday. Could that have been a result in a slightly slower fastball?

The Phillies never got much going against deGrom, who struck out six, walked none and scattered five hits and one run over those six innings. But keep an eye on the radar during deGrom’s starts and see if that fastball starts creeping closer to the mid-90s as the weather heats up. If so, this has all been a moot point. If not, the Mets have to be at least a little worried about their ace and what that means in regards to his effectiveness moving forward.

After taking two of three from the Astros in the first series of the year, the Yankees lost 4-0 in Detroit to start their first road trip.

I wouldn’t make too much of it.

It was freezing at Comerica Park and the Yanks were up against Jordan Zimmermann, who had pitched well in two interleague starts against New York in previous seasons.

Playing a 1 p.m. game the day after a 4 p.m. game also meant that Joe Girardi sent his B-lineup out there with Dustin Ackley, Aaron Hicks and Austin Romine getting starts. Starlin Castro, who killed the Astros in the first three games, went 0-for-4 in his promotion to the No. 3 spot in the lineup.

Starter Luis Severino relied almost exclusively on his fastball and slider and did a good job finding the strike zone, as he did not issue any walks. His fastballs went for strikes 73.6 percent of the time and the slider was a strike 71.4 percent of the time. That’s perhaps a bit too much of the zone against a team full of professional hitters like the Tigers, who scored three runs on 10 hits over five-plus innings.

Severino got into trouble when he allowed four straight singles in the fourth but he did rebound with a 1-2-3 fifth that included a Miguel Cabrera swinging strikeout. Severino allowed back-to-back singles to open the sixth and came out of the game.

The 10 hits isn’t a great look in the box score, but nine of them were singles and Severino did induce a lot of ground balls. So there’s really no shame on his part here getting dinked-and-dunked to death. If he had more faith in his changeup, which he used only eight times, Severino might have gotten more swings-and-misses. He is on track to close out the series in Toronto, so we’ll see how he fares against a tough Blue Jays lineup in a few days.

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Notes from Terry Collins’ home opener press conference

New York Mets pitcher Jacob deGrom talks to reporters at Citi Field in New York, Thursday, April 7, 2016. The Mets will play their home opener against the Philadelphia Phillies on Friday. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

NEW YORK – The Mets will raise the National League championship pennant before today’s home opener against the Philadelphia Phillies.

Terry Collins will be glad it see it fly over Citi Field but he’s also happy that the Mets will finally get to move on from their run to last year’s World Series.

“I think it’s going to be very fun,” Collins said. “We are certainly excited to get out there today and watch the flag go up. It’s an honor and we’re thrilled for our fans with what we accomplished last year. As we saw the last week in Kansas City, we have to get this over with. We have to get 2015 over and start getting ready for 2016. Today is that day.”

deGrom set to start

Jacob deGrom is still set to take the mound for Friday’s game even though his wife, Stacey, is set to give birth to the couple’s first son at any moment.

“It’s difficult because he has some other stuff on his mind so it makes it really hard but that’s what you have to do to be a major league pitcher,” Collins said. “You have to be able to stay in the moment and realize what your job is and that’s to go out and pitch as well as you can for as long as you can. He has that capability and he’s been looking forward to this start for a while. We’re hoping we can get him out in the sixth inning before the baby comes.”

Bartolo Colon would likely serve as the emergency starter should deGrom decide to skip the start. Colon pitched 1 1/3 innings in relief in the Mets’ opening day loss in Kansas City on April 3.

Staff of aces

The Mets couldn’t go wrong when setting up the pitching order for 2016. Matt Harvey, Noah Syndergaard, deGrom and Steven Matz all could be No. 1 pitchers for many teams. That pleases Collins, but he knows the Mets’ pitching fortunes didn’t happen by luck. His pitchers and coaches have worked hard to give the Mets one of the best rotations in baseball.

“First of all, I have an outstanding pitching coach (Dan Warthen). I have an outstanding bullpen coach (Ricky Bones) and those guys have been around these kids and taught them a lot. Certainly they’ve refined their stuff and all the stories of the different grips they’ve worked on and their patience in the work they’ve done in spring training and when they do their sides it all adds up to when you have plus stuff and when you can command it, you can be dominant. That’s what we’ve got is that domination and it’s something those guys are going to have to understand that there are going to be good nights and bad nights. The thing I like about these guys, the thing that really characterizes these guys is the nights they don’t have their best stuff, they still compete They don’t throw their hands up and say, “Woe is me,” they compete and they get through it.”

Collins thrilled to have World Series experience

Terry Collins played for 10 years in the minor leagues and has been around the game in various roles ever since. When the Mets won the NLCS last year, it marked the first time Collins had in any way been with an organization that had played in the World Series.

“It was a thrill to get to the postseason but to get to the World Series was a childhood dream,” Collins said. “Any kid who played Little League thinks about getting to the World Series. When you finally get there, it means a lot. To see that flag go up, knowing all the work that went into it, not just myself but the staff, the players, it’s going to be very, very exciting. We have to go play the next 160 games and get ourselves back into the routine we’re used to but it’ll be fun today.”

This and that…

  • The Mets are 34-20 in home openers, including a 4-3 mark at Citi Field
  • David Wright has at least one hit in every home opener he’s played since making the team in 2005…he’s a .386 hitter (17-for-44) on opening day in New York.
  • The Mets will bring back former National League champions Rusty Staub, John Franco and Edgardo Alfonzo to help raise the NL pennant in a pregame ceremony. Members of the New York police and fire departments will throw out the first pitch.
  • Phillies starting pitcher Jerad Eickhoff was acquired from Texas in the Cole Hamels trade last season…he made his major league debut in August and ended the season on a high note, going 2-0 with a 0.96 ERA over his last four starts…he made three starts against the Mets, taking the loss on Aug. 26 and 31 before pitching holding the Mets to four hits, striking out 10, in a 3-0 Phils win on Oct. 1…Michael Conforto is 4-for-8 with a double and a homer off Eickhoff.
  • The Phillies open the season with five rookies on the roster…only Baltimore (6) has more.

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Notes from Joe Girardi’s pregame press conference on opening day

A member of the grounds crew blows ice chunks off the field before a baseball game between the Houston Astros and the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium, Tuesday, April 5, 2016 in New York. The opener between the Astros and Yankees was postponed Monday because of rain and cold. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

I’m here at Yankee Stadium for opening day against the Astros. Joe Girardi recently wrapped his pregame press conference and here are some highlights.

NEW YORK — Bryan Mitchell figured to be one of the Yankees’ breakout stars in 2016. The 24-year-old right-hander was the team’s best pitcher in spring training, going 2-0 with a 0.57 ERA with 12 strikeouts and three walks in 15 2/3 innings. Mitchell seemed to fit the role previously held by Adam Warren, who was traded to the Cubs for second baseman Starlin Castro this offseason.

Mitchell, however, will be out for at least four months as manager Joe Girardi confirmed in Tuesday’s pregame press conference. Miller broke his left big toe at the end of spring training and underwent surgery on Monday.

“He had surgery yesterday,” Girardi said. “He will be out at least four months. We’re waiting for an exact timetable when Stevie (Donohue) gets to talk to the doctor. We have to find out exactly what that four months means. Can he begin throwing or should he be back?”

Rookie righty Luis Cessa, acquired from Detroit in an offseason trade for reliever Justin Wilson, and Ivan Nova could be contenders for that spot start-long man role out of the Yankees’ bullpen.

“Cessa is a guy who you possibly look at to do that but we have to make sure, in a sense, that he stays built up, as well as Nova. How many one inning stints does he get compared to longer stints? That’s something that, in a sense, the games will determine, but he’s a guy who could probably do it too.”

SUNNY BUT FREEZING
With Monday’s game postponed by snow and rain in New York, Mother Nature was a bit more kind with plenty of sun in the forecast for Tuesday’s rescheduled opener. Tuesday’s projected high temperature is 39 degrees, with winds around 15 MPH that will make it feel like it’s in the 20s.

“The difficulty is dealing with the baseball and having a good grip on the baseball,” Girardi said. “The other things are, your hands are cold and you hit one off the end and it really stings or if it’s a foul ball and you get jammed, you have to get back in there. Just staying warm. Your mind drifts a little bit and at times you’re trying to block out the cold.”

The Yankees have a heated bat rack, which will help the hitters as they step up to the plate. Pitchers in the bullpen can stay warm in the enclosed portion and position players can sneak back into the clubhouse area between innings to stave off the chill.

WHAT TO EXPECT FROM TANAKA?
Masahiro Tanaka has been a solid pitcher for the Yankees in his first two seasons in the major leagues. He’s 25-12 with a 3.16 ERA but has dealt with some injury scares to his right elbow that have limited him to 44 starts.

Will Tanaka continue to develop into the ace that the Yankees hoped they had signed to a $22 million-per-year contract after the 2013 season?

“You expect to see a guy who’s going to pitch with top-of-the-rotation type of stuff who gives you 30 to 32 starts,” Girardi said. “Obviously, we have to see how he’s doing, as well as all of our pitchers as we go through the season. He pitched a lot of good games last year and that’s what we expect.”

Tanaka relies heavily on his splitter, sinker and slider and also mixes in a fastball, curveball and cutter. His average fastball has been consistent between his two major league seasons, clocking in at 92.75 miles per hour.

“The only thing that I see different is that maybe you don’t see the top end of the velocity, the 96s,” Girardi said. “The average velocity is basically the same. It remains to be seen if we see that this year. I think he topped out at 94-95 last year but we didn’t see the 96.”

HICKS GETS OPENING DAY START
Outfielder Aaron Hicks was one of the Twins’ top prospects for many years but was traded to the Yankees for catcher John Ryan Murphy this winter.

Hicks, a switch-hitter, gives the Yankees some backup for Carlos Beltran in right field and could steal some at-bats from Brett Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury against tough left-handed pitchers. Hicks gets the start on Tuesday with Gardner on the bench.

“He provides power and speed and has had a lot of success off left-handers in his career,” Girardi said. “He’s a switch-hitter. He’s a guy that runs really well so there are different things he can do.”

Hicks is a .272 hitter against lefties in 228 career at-bats. He has hit .206 against right-handers in 591 at-bats.

MATSUI RETURNS TO THROW OUT FIRST PITCH
Hideki Matsui, the 2009 World Series MVP, will throw out Tuesday’s first pitch. Matsui hit 140 home runs and was a .292 hitter in seven seasons in New York. He finished his MLB career with one-year stints with the Angels, A’s and Rays, respectively.

“As a teammate, as a manager and as a fan, you talk about what you want out of a player and he was it,” Girardi said. “He was tough and he worked extremely hard. He was a leader on the field by the way he played and he was a leader in the clubhouse because of who he was and how he went about his business. He was well-loved in the clubhouse. People wanted to be around him.”

The West Point Cadet Color Guard will present the flag before the national anthem.

EXCITEMENT, OPTIMISM FROM THE SKIPPER
The Yankees get a 2015 Wild Card game rematch in the season opener, facing reigning American League Cy Young winner Dallas Keuchel and the Houston Astros.

The American League East figures to be competitive as ever this year, with Boston having improved its rotation and Toronto featuring a power-packed lineup. Still, Girardi is hopeful that the Yankees have done everything they could to get ready for another season.

“I’m excited about this club, about the work they put in and the additions that we’ve made,” he said. “I’ve said all along that I feel we’re better on paper although that doesn’t really mean much until you go out and play the games but because of that, I’m excited.”

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