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Ellsbury solves Reds’ stud closer, then uses legs to help Yanks win

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Jacoby Ellsbury bats during the ninth inning, where he'd single off Cincinnati's hard-throwing closer, Aroldis Chapman, and eventually score the winning run.

Facing Cincinnati closer Aroldis Chapman and his 102 mph fastball, the Yankees’ Jacoby Ellsbury explained, is just as much a mental exercise as physical.

“Well, it just lessens your reaction time,” Ellsbury said. “You don’t have much time to think.”

Or to pray.

“You just have to go up there trusting your hands, get your swing ready a little bit earlier,” Ellsbury said. “I think that’s the firmest I’ve seen a pitcher throwing 102. Yeah, it’s firm.”

So Ellsbury trusted his hands and his reactions and led off the bottom of the ninth with a single, his season high-tying fourth hit of the game. From there, he trusted his legs and his instincts.

Ellsbury stole second against the lefty Chapman, then advanced to third on a wild pitch and eventually scored the winning run on Brian McCann’s dunk single that fell among three Reds in short right field as the Yankees completed a three-game sweep with a 3-2 victory Sunday at Yankee Stadium.

“It’s not every day you see someone throwing 102. You just try to put a good at-bat together, hope to put something hard in play,” Ellsbury said. “Fortunately, I fouled some pitches to get a pitch I could hit.

“Just trying to relax, not do too much. Someone is throwing that hard you want to be nice and relaxed, maybe shorten up your swing a little bit.”

Ellsbury strung together a terrific at bat. He sent Chapman’s ninth pitch, a mere 101 mph offering, into left to ignite the winning sequence.

“That’s a guy throwing 100 mph plus. Stay in there, foul off some pitches,” manager Joe Girardi said, explaining the approach, leaving out the part about wearing body armor and a triple-lined helmet.

And once Ellsbury was aboard, Chapman was essentially swatting at a mosquito in a swamp.

“In that situation, [you’re] just trying to scrape one run across, I’m trying to get in scoring position as fast as possible. Good thing I did,” said Ellsbury who previously had two singles — one for a fifth-inning RBI — a double and a walk.

“He can do anything on the base paths. He showed off all his tools today, set the tone,” McCann said.

“That’s a big deal. You know he knows what he’s doing,” Girardi said of Ellsbury reaching base. “He can steal second, steal third.”

Or steal second and move up on a wild pitch. McCann then delivered the one-out game-ending hit for the sweep.

“Guys [in] the last three games have put tremendous at-bats together, one through nine in the lineup. When you do that good things happen,” Ellsbury said. “It just makes it tough on the opposing pitchers.”

Even the ones throwing 102 mph.

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Newcomers to rotation thriving for Yankees

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Brandon McCarthy and Shane Greene have helped a Yankees rotation which is currently without four-fifths of its Opening Day starting rotation.

You don’t have to be a baseball lifer to recognize the ramifications of a team losing four-fifths of its projected starting rotation to injury even before the All-Star break.

But you also don’t have to spend 24/7 around a ballpark to know that in losing the present-day version of CC Sabathia, Ivan Nova and Michael Pineda in addition to Masahiro Tanaka, the Yankees haven’t exactly been deprived of sending David Cone, David Wells and Orlando Hernandez to the mound every fifth day.

Maybe down the road the lack of pedigree in the rotation will become a significant impediment in the hunt for a playoff spot. Maybe a staff with a handful of starters who would have seemed more at home in split-squad games in March in Tampa than in pennant-chase baseball in July and August in The Bronx will eventually undermine the Yankees.

But not yet. And not this weekend, which concluded with Sunday’s 3-2 victory at the Stadium over the Reds that completed a three-game sweep in which the Yankees were gifted with quality starts from first David

Phelps, then Brandon McCarthy and finally Hiroki Kuroda, who combined to surrender a sum of three earned runs in 19 innings of work.

“To be honest, our guys have been doing it all year,” said Brian McCann, who brought home Jacoby Ellsbury from third base with the winning run in the bottom of the ninth when his pop fly into shallow right fell among three befuddled Cincinnati fielders. “Our pitchers have been consistent all season long.”

Whether the originals or the replacements, the starters other than Tanaka have not been dominant. But they have been respectable. They have given the Yankees a chance to at least remain part of the postseason conversation in a season during which mystique and aura appear only on the scoreboard video screens and on designated plaque days.

The Yankees have gotten essentially middle-of-the-road work from the rotation overall, the starters tied for the seventh-best ERA in the AL (3.92) and the 11th-most innings in the league. But it’s been better lately, noticeably better, with their starters having surrendered three earned runs or fewer in each of the last eight games, compiling a 1.99 ERA over that span.

That would be from the firm of Kuroda, McCarthy, Phelps, Shane Greene and Chase Whitley, and in the eight games since Tanaka’s last start in Cleveland on July 8.

“These guys have the ability to step up; they do,” Joe Girardi said after the victory gave his team a three-game winning streak for the first time in a month. “They have to understand that if they make their pitches, they’re going to get people out.

“I’ve said that for us to make noise, we have to get distance out of them.”

Kuroda, who was touched for one unearned run in 6 ²/₃ innings before yielding to Dellin Betances, was masterful in limiting the Reds to three hits, mixing his sinker, slider and splitter effectively throughout. At 39, he is the lone man standing from the original starting five.

“I’ve thought about that more than once, that the last guys standing is the oldest,” Girardi said. “It’s partly [due to] how he conditions himself. It’s also partly genetic.”

A year ago, Kuroda faded down the stretch, going 0-6 with 6.56 ERA over his final eight starts. Girardi has responded by, if not babying Kuroda, then by monitoring him closely. Of course he has. That’s called managing.

“You have to be cautious, but maybe we can push him a little more,” Girardi said. “If he’d been overworked and not pitching as well, people would want to know why, and it [would be] because he’s overworked. It’s a fine line.”

Kuroda has thrown 123 innings, 20th most in the league, after throwing 201 innings last season and a career-high 219 two years ago.

“How I am used is up to the manager,” Kuroda said. “You can’t replace any of my teammates, but when you go to the mound you have to make sure you give your team a chance to win.

“Injuries or not, I take pride in taking responsibility.”

In 2005, original rotation members Carl Pavano, Jaret Wright and Kevin Brown all went down with injuries.

So after a spell did Chien-Ming Wang. The Yankees traded for Shawn Chacon and promoted Aaron Small, who responded by going a combined 17-3 and helping lead the team to the AL East title even though only Randy Johnson and Mike Mussina were healthy enough to make 30 starts.

This isn’t then, when the Yankees bludgeoned their way to the postseason. But it does prove that it can be done, and that a team can overcome.

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Hiroki Kuroda of the New York Yankees pitches against the Cincinnati Reds during their game at Yankee Stadium on July 19, 2014 in the Bronx borough of New York City.

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Jacoby Ellsbury of the New York Yankees drives in a run with a single in the fifth inning against the Cincinnati Reds during their game at Yankee Stadium on July 19, 2014 in the Bronx borough of New York City.

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Jacoby Ellsbury of the New York Yankees gets a hit in the ninth inning against the Cincinnati Reds during their game at Yankee Stadium on July 19, 2014 in the Bronx borough of New York City.

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Brian McCann of the New York Yankees drives in the game winning run with a single in the ninth inning against the Cincinnati Reds during their game at Yankee Stadium on July 19, 2014 in the Bronx borough of New York City.

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Chase Headley drives in winning run in debut as Yankees walk off with win over Rangers

'I’m excited to be here,' Headley said after being doused with Gatorade by Brett Gardner. 'I can’t wait to help and do my job.'

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Chase Headley makes a splash in his Yankee debut, throwing his arm in the air while celebrating his game-winning single.

Welcome to New York, Chase Headley.

Less than 12 hours after being traded, the newest Yankee made his presence felt immediately, lifting the Bombers to a 2-1 walk-off victory over the Rangers with a single in the 14th inning.

“There’s a lot of nerves there,” Headley said. “But I kind of stepped out of the box and I thought to myself, ‘Why not? Why wouldn’t this day go this way?’ I was able to enjoy it.”

Jacoby Ellsbury singled in the tying run against closer Joakim Soria in the bottom of the 13th to give the Bombers new life, setting up Headley’s big moment.

“When I found out (about the trade), obviously you have mixed emotions when you’ve been at a place for as long as I’ve been in San Diego,” Headley said. “But I couldn’t be happier to be a Yankee. It’s unbelievable. I can’t even believe I’m saying that. Long day, but great way to finish.”

The Yankees’ comeback was necessary after J.P. Arencibia took David Huff deep to lead off the 13th for the game’s first run.

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Chase Headley (c.) celebrates with his new teammates and manager Joe Girardi.

“I’ve said it all along; they fight,” Joe Girardi said. “This team doesn’t give up.”

Headley landed at LaGuardia Airport around 6:30 p.m., arriving at the Stadium about a half-hour into the game. He changed quickly into his new pinstripes and walked into the dugout, introducing himself to his new teammates before settling in for the game.

Headley got the call to pinch-hit for Zelous Wheeler in the eighth, striking out in his first at-bat. He grounded out in both the 11th and the 12th, the latter with two out and the bases loaded in the scoreless game.

“You’ve got to want to be up in that spot,” Headley said. “Had a chance earlier, wasn’t able to get it done. I was fortunate to come back around and have (another) opportunity.”

The Yankees acquired Headley from the Padres on Tuesday afternoon for infielder Yangervis Solarte and minor-league pitcher Rafael De Paula. The Yankees also received $1 million from San Diego to pay part of the $4 million still owed to Headley this season.

“We think he’s an upgrade,” general manager Brian Cashman said. “We feel like we’re at least getting an average everyday major-leaguer at that position and maybe more. We’ll see.”

Headley had a breakout season in 2012, batting .286/.376/.498 with 31 home runs and a National League-best 115 RBI, finishing fifth in NL MVP voting while winning a Gold Glove and Silver Slugger. He’s posted a .243/.330/.384 slash line with 20 homers and 82 RBI in 218 games since the start of last season while battling a number of injuries. The 30-year-old landed on the disabled list with a calf injury in late-April and has dealt with knee, bicep and back issues this season.

Headley had an epidural injection on June 20 for a herniated disc in his back, a shot that Cashman believes helped him regain his stroke as he hit .298/.330/.405 in his previous 21 games.

Cashman had been trying to acquire Headley for the past three weeks, although a source said the GM was also trying to pry outfielder Chris Denorfia away from the Padres before making the deal for Headley.

Headley, who is making $10.5 million this season, will be a free agent at the end of the year. Asked whether this should be viewed as an audition for a new contract, Cashman — who will have Alex Rodriguez returning from his suspension next season — sidestepped the topic.

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Yankees catcher Francisco Cervelli tags Rangers’ Robinson Chirinos out at the plate on Daniel Robinson's fifth-inning single.

“I can’t predict 2015 and what our needs will or won’t be,” Cashman said. “That’s not what this is all about.”

Solarte hit .254 with six home runs and 31 RBI in 75 games this season, although his production dropped off dramatically in the past two months. De Paula, 23, was 6-5 with a 4.15 ERA in 20 games (17 starts) with Class-A Tampa this season.

Headley’s name surfaced as a possible trade target after the 2012 season when A-Rod underwent his second hip surgery, but the price would have been astronomical following Headley’s monster season.

“If I had a vacancy at third base, which clearly I had, then I’m sure I inquired about him, yes,” Cashman said. “But he was an easier get this time than when I made that call, clearly.”

The Yankees have now made two trades in the past two weeks to bolster their roster, acquiring Headley and Brandon McCarthy without giving up any of their top prospects.

“We’re hoping that we can get a jolt from every single addition that we bring in here,” Cashman said. “We’re going keep sifting through it and try to find ways to improve this club so we can get the team where it needs to be, which is qualifying for the playoffs.”

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Whitley starts second half in style with six-plus shutout innings

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Chase Whitley

Chase Headley’s game-winning hit will be the lasting memory from his Yankees debut, but Chase Whitley’s unexpectedly strong pitching performance is what the team will need to stay in contention in the second half of the season.

Making his first appearance since the All-Star break, the rookie right-hander snapped out of a month-long slump, turning in what may have been the best start of his young career, as he threw six-plus shutout innings while striking out six in the Yankees’ night’s 2-1, 14-inning win over the Rangers Tuesday night in The Bronx.

“I went into this one like it was a new beginning, the second half of the season,” Whitley said. “I felt good. I felt like I was in command.”

With 80 percent of the starting rotation on the disabled list, Whitley finally gave the Yankees what they needed, though the 25-year-old received nothing in return.

Pitching at least five innings for the first time since June 18, Whitley (4-3) allowed seven hits, but threw the longest scoreless outing of his career, giving the Yankees anemic offense plenty of time to offer support. Instead, the lineup went 12 innings without scoring a run, amassing only four hits through the first 11 innings.

Struggling over his past four starts, Whitley showed resilience from the beginning, brushing aside his ballooned ERA of 5.10 and bringing back the success of his first seven starts, when he posted a 2.56 ERA. Following Tuesday’s no-decision, Whitley’s ERA dropped to 4.60.

“He was great,” manager Joe Girardi said. “He had an outstanding performance tonight, got into the seventh inning for us.

“I thought his stuff was really sharp. I thought his changeup was really good. I thought his slider was sharp and I think the rest helped him.”

Whitley was tested several times, surrendering a leadoff hit in each of the first four innings.

In the second inning, Leonys Martin opened with a leadoff single, in which the center fielder took an extra base after Zelous Wheeler’s throwing error. Though Martin reached third after a wild pitch with no outs, Whitley recovered, inducing a ground ball from J.P. Arencibia, striking out Robinson Chirinos and getting another ground ball from Rougned Odor to end the inning unscathed.

Whitley would leave the scoreless tie in the seventh inning, after giving up a leadoff single to Adrian Beltre, having thrown 75 pitches.

“The workload had gotten to me a little bit, but today I was able to attack from pitch one,” Whitley said. “I was just getting ahead of hitters, attacking and being aggressive. Other than that, it was really nothing different.

“When you go through struggles, it’s a test of character. You got to get through it. You just have to keep battling.Even when times weren’t good out there, I just felt like I was battling.”

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Yankees 1B Mark Teixeira to miss 3-4 games with mild lower lat strain

Teixeira, the team leader in RBI (48) and home runs (17), says the injury has bothered him on and off since the Bombers played in Oakland in mid-June. He expected to get a PRP shot later Monday night.

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Mark Teixeira continues to be nagged by injuries, this time a lower lat strain will keep him out at least 3-4 days.

Four days into the second half of the season, the injury bug has bitten the Yankees once again.

Mark Teixeira was out of the lineup on Monday night against the Rangers with a mild, Grade 1 strain in the lower lat muscle on the left side of his back. Joe Girardi says he intends to rest Teixeira for three or four days, but does not believe the slugger will need to be placed on the disabled list.

“I thought the year off last year would give me a fountain of youth, (but) it’s just made me rusty,” said Teixeira, who missed the bulk of last season with a torn tendon sheath in his right wrist. “The pain really ratcheted up in the last few days. That’s when we decided to get the MRI because something wasn’t right.”

Teixeira, the team leader in RBI (48) and home runs (17), says he has been dealing with back spasms since the Bombers played in Oakland in mid-June and that the area has bothered him ever since. He expected to get a PRP shot later Monday night.

Though the Yanks swept the Reds over the weekend, Teixeira finished 0-for-12 in the series with five strikeouts. Girardi was asked whether he felt as though the injury could explain Teixeira’s recent struggles.

“I don’t know. It could be,” Girardi said. “These guys right now are always dealing with aches and pains. It’s been his lat. There’s been a couple of other little things, his neck was kind of stiff a day, so you don’t know if it’s all related.”

“I think if we were concerned, really concerned, we’d put him on the DL right away,” he continued. “We’re hoping that after three or four days maybe he feels okay and maybe we can get him back in there.”

The Yankees have been hit the hardest by injuries to their rotation, with CC Sabathia (knee), Masahiro Tanaka (elbow) Ivan Nova (elbow) and Michael Pineda (shoulder) all being shelved with various ailments. But position players have also nursed injuries throughout the year, including Teixeira, who missed 14

games with a right hamstring strain in April. Teixeira played in over 150 games in each of his first three seasons with the Yankees, but has struggled to stay healthy since.

“When I went down in Toronto with that adductor, hamstring thing, it was like, man, it shouldn’t be this hard to play baseball any more,” Teixeira said. “But you grind through it, and hopefully when you are out there, you’re productive. It may not be for 160 games anymore, but when I’m out there, I want to produce for my team.”

With Teixeira unavailable, Girardi turned to Kelly Johnson to start at first. Entering Monday night, Johnson was batting .189 with two homers and 10 RBI in 25 games as the Yankees first baseman. Brian McCann, Francisco Cervelli, Brendan Ryan and

Carlos Beltran have also all played first this year and could conceivably start there if needed. The Yankees hope, obviously, is that a replacement won’t be needed for too long.

Despite the various injuries plaguing his club, Girardi says there is no room for excuses in the Yankees clubhouse.

“I’ve always said it’s an opportunity for other people when you deal with injuries and it’s an opportunity to prove yourself for some younger players that might get called up a little bit before people expect them to,” Girardi said. “I think you just have to have the attitude that no matter what happens, we’re going to press on.

We’re out there to win games and that’s what we’re going to do. We’re not going to make excuses because obviously nobody’s going to feel sorry for us. … These are grown men playing the game and you have to find a way.”

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With Texas Rangers Shin Soo-Choo on first base, New York Yankees starting pitcher Chase Whitley delivers in a baseball game at Yankee Stadium in New York, Tuesday, July 22, 2014.

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Zelous Wheeler of the New York Yankees celebrates after making the last out of the second inning against the Texas Rangers on July 22, 2014 at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx borough of New York City.

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Robinson Chirinos of the Texas Rangers heads for home but is out by Francisco Cervelli of the New York Yankees in the fifth inning on July 22, 2014 at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx borough of New York City.

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New York Yankees pitcher Jeff Francis delivers in the 14th inning of a baseball game against the Texas Rangers at Yankee Stadium in New York, Tuesday, July 22, 2014. The Yankees defeated the Rangers 2-1 on a walk-off by Chase Headley, acquired Tuesday from the San Diego Padres.

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Newly acquired New York Yankees Chase Headley hits a game-winning, walk-off, RBI single off Texas Rangers reliever Nick Tepesch in a baseball game at Yankee Stadium in New York, Wednesday, July 23, 2014.

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New York Yankees Chase Headley celebrates after hitting a 14th-inning walk-off RBI single in the Yankees 2-1 victory over the Texas Rangers in a baseball game at Yankee Stadium in New York, Wednesday, July 23, 2014.

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