The embattled closer will be in Yankee pinstripes when the Cleveland Indians come to Yankee Stadium for the opener of a four-game series.
Benitez was acquired Wednesday from the cross-town rival Mets for rookie reliever Jason Anderson and two minor league pitching prospects. As part of the deal, the Yankees will pay the remainder of Benitez’s $6.75 million salary this year, which comes to $2,729,508.
Benitez, who will serve as an eighth-inning bridge to closer Mariano Rivera, became the target of boos at Shea Stadium, blamed for his central role in the team’s collapse. The 30-year-old right-hander, eligible for free agency after the season, is 3-3 with a 3.10 ERA in 45 games this season, blowing seven of his 28 save chances.
“I know in this town some failures get magnified and talked about,” Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said. “I think a change of scenery will do him good. … Armando has the opportunity to show the New York scene he can be successful in tough spots, like has been most of the time with the Mets. Armando has a fresh start to prove here, in the same city, that some of this stuff might be more overblown than it is.”
The Yankees hold a two-game lead over second-place Boston in the AL East. While Rivera has converted 16 of 17 save chances, the rest of the bullpen has been shaky in the absence of Steve Karsay, who is injured and hasn’t pitched this season.
Juan Acevedo was released after struggling to an 0-3 record and a 7.71 ERA, and Antonio Osuna was sidelined from June 14 until last weekend by a strained groin. Chris Hammond, who replaced Mike Stanton during the offseason as the top left-hander in the bullpen, has been effective but inconsistent.
Benitez should be available against Cleveland, which took two of three from New York from July 8-10, one-hitting the Yankees in one game and rallying against its inconsistent bullpen in another.
The Indians then split four games with the Chicago White Sox in their next series, capped by a 7-4 loss on Sunday.
Jody Gerut homered for the Indians, who started six rookies and reached the break 12 games below .500—one game worse than they were after 94 games last season.
Cleveland closed the unofficial first half by going 34-33 after a 7-20 start.
“I definitely see hope,” Gerut said. “We’ve got room to grow, but as long as we continue to learn, we’ll be fine.”
STANDINGS: Indians - 4th place, 11 GB, AL Central. Yankees - 1st place, AL East.
INDIANS PROBABLE STARTER: C.C. Sabathia (8-4, 3.23 ERA). The left-hander allowed just two earned runs in seven innings in his last start, but was the loser in the Indians’ 6-2 defeat to the Yankees on July 9. Sabathia, who has won eight of his last 10 decisions, is 1-5 with a 7.28 ERA in six career starts against New York.
YANKEES PROBABLE STARTER: Andy Pettitte (10-6, 4.63 ERA). Pettitte has been the beneficiary of excellent run support during his six-start winning streak, as New York has scored at least five runs in each outing and 42 total. Pettitte has been hit or miss, twice allowing five earned runs and three times permitting two or fewer during his run. The veteran left-hander is 5-7 with a 4.62 ERA in 14 career starts against Cleveland.
OFFENSIVE LEADERS: Indians - Milton Bradley, .328 avg., 50 runs and 15 SBs.; Matt Lawton, 15 HRs and 47 RBIs. Yankees - Derek Jeter, .316 avg.; Jason Giambi, 26 HRs and 73 RBIs; Alfonso Soriano, 73 runs and 25 SBs.
SEASON SERIES: Indians, 2-1.
STREAKS AND NOTES: Indians - RHP David Riske hasn’t allowed an earned run in 10 2-3 innings, dropping his ERA to 2.68. He has 12 holds this season. … OF Shane Spencer has 20 hits in his last 46 at-bats (.435) with four homers and 10 RBIs. … CF Bradley leads the AL with a .452 average against lefties. Yankees - Included in the Benitez deal were RHPs Anderson Garcia and Ryan Bicondoa, who were pitching at Class A Battle Creek and Tampa, respectively. … LHP David Wells has issued just six walks in 17 starts, spanning 127 innings. … RF Raul Mondesi has tendinitis in his left wrist and is day-to-day.
ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Indians - 19-28 on the road; Yankees - 25-19 at home.
INJURIES: Indians - INF John McDonald (back), 15-day DL; INF Omar Vizquel (knee), 15-day DL; OF Lawton (hand), 15-day DL; RHP Ricardo Rodriguez (groin), 15-day DL; RHP Jason Bere (shoulder), 60-day DL; RHP Dave Elder (shoulder), 60-day DL; RHP Bob Wickman (elbow), 60-day DL; RHP Mark Wohlers (elbow), 60-day DL; OF Ellis Burks (elbow), 60-day DL. Yankees - 1B-DH Nick Johnson (hand), 15-day DL; RHP Jose Contreras (shoulder), 15-day DL; RHP Karsay (shoulder), 15-day DL; RHP Jon Lieber (elbow), 60-day DL.