3 key Yankees in the second half

Starting pitcher Hiroki Kuroda of the Yankees walks

Starting pitcher Hiroki Kuroda of the Yankees walks off the field after he is taken out of the game during the fifth inning against the Chicago White Sox at U.S. Cellular Field on May 23, 2014 in Chicago. (Credit: Getty Images / Brian Kersey)

1. Hiroki Kuroda

In terms of the rotation, the 39-year-old ended the first half as the last man standing. He has shown some signs of age -- 6-6 with a 4.10 ERA at the break -- but he did post a 3.51 ERA in his last eight starts. He, along with Masahiro Tanaka, carried the Yankees' injury-depleted starting staff in the first half. With Tanaka gone for at least the next six weeks and more likely the rest of the season, the pressure increases on Kuroda, who faded down the stretch each of the previous two seasons.

 

2. Dellin Betances

The rookie started the season pitching mostly in low-leverage situations. With a high-90s fastball and knee-buckling curveball, however, he earned Joe Girardi's trust and eventually took over as David Robertson's primary setup man. His first-half performance -- 4-0, 1.46 ERA in 40 games with 84 strikeouts in 55 1/3 innings -- played a big part in the Yankees' ability to survive the rotation's injuries. Can it continue? It had better. For the Yankees to get where they want to go, neither Betances nor Robertson -- 23-for-25 in save chances -- can afford to slump.

 

3. Derek Jeter

Two weeks ago, a club insider observed: "Who would have thought at this point in the season Derek Jeter would be one of our healthiest players?" Indeed, coming off an injury-plagued 2013 in which he hit .190 in 17 games, Jeter has stayed on the field in his final season. His production has ebbed and flowed, as you'd expect from a 40-year-old playing a premium position. Jeter, whose range in the field has continued to decline but who still makes the routine and occasionally spectacular play, is hitting .272 with a .324 OBP, not close to his career numbers but not train-wreck figures, either. He has played a little more than expected so his health bears watching as the days count down to Sept. 28 in Boston -- his last day in a Yankees uniform, barring a second-half charge by his club.

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