Spring Game 31: NYY vs. WAS — Closing out Spring with a couple of losses

And just like that, Spring is over. It’s time for the “Boys of Summer”.

The Yankees made a brief stop in Washington, D.C. to visit the Nationals for their final exhibition game of the Spring. Stephen Tarpley got the start for the Yankees and had a spot of trouble in the 1st inning. A 1-out single scored as part of a 2-out 2-run home run to get the home team on the board early. Tarpley only pitched 4 outs before handing the last 2 of the 2nd over to Zack Britton.

Adam Ottavino had another impressive outing with a clean 3rd inning, but Tommy Kahnle had some trouble in the 4th. He loaded up the bases with a double, a walk, and a single. With 1 out, a sacrifice fly scored 1 run, and a single scored the next. Not able to get out of the inning, he handed the ball over to Cortes for long-term relief through the 8th, only giving up a 1-out solo homer in the 6th.

The Yankees were a little slower on the bat than the Nats. Troy Tulowitzki led-off the 3rd with a solo home run up the middle. But they were relatively quiet though most of the game. In the 6th, Zack Zehner worked a walk, and after a strikeout, the Nationals finally went to their bullpen. But then Greg Bird doubled and scored Zehner to double the Yankees’ score.

Their final opportunity came in the 8th. Zehner again led-off the inning, this time with a solid double. With 1 out, he moved to 3rd on a wild pitch. Bird then worked a walk to put runners on the corners. After another pitching change, Francisco Diaz hit a long sacrifice fly to score Zehner. But the Yankees fell short in the end.

Final score: 5-3 Nationals

Next up: The Yankee head up to the Bronx to prepare for their Opening Day and series against the Orioles. Opening Day is Thursday afternoon, followed by an off-day Friday before picking up again for the weekend, followed by a series against the visiting Tigers and then hitting the road for their first road trip. It’s baseball season again, folks.

The Yankees finish their Spring with 17 wins, 10 losses, 4 ties, and 1 canceled game. In the standings, the Yankees finish a 1/2 game ahead of the Astros. And in averages alone, they are first in the entire league. I guess you could chalk it up to all those ties this year.

Spring Overall One to Watch: Finally, as I think back on this Spring Training season, there are a few names that leap out as standout among the crowds. So, I take out players like Tarpley who ended up making the main roster and those like Wade who are likely to make the team shortly. That leaves me with a handful of outstanding players like Urshela, Amburgey, and Estrada.

But this year, I’ve got to select Kyle Holder. The 25-year-old infielder played in 20 games this Spring, mostly at shortstop, and it’s there that his quick defense has caught my eye. Last year, he bounced around the farm system a bit, including the Advanced-A Tampa, Single-A Charleston, and AA Trenton. It will be good to see how he performs this year as he works his way up the system and fine tunes those skills. See you next Spring!

Finally, our condolences go out to the family of legendary New York sports writer Marty Noble. Retired in 2016 after nearly 50 years covering Yankees and Mets baseball, Noble recently focused on his participation with the BBWAA, including special articles for their annual awards program. His friends all over the industry shared their memories and condolences. He passed away yesterday at age 70, survived by his wife and two daughters. He and his great insights of the game will be sorely missed.

Go Yankees!

Spring Game 30: NYY vs. MIN — Farewell to Florida, with a win

And we’ve reached the penultimate game of the season. The Yankees headed south about 2 hours to Fort Myers to face the Twins on this lovely Sunday afternoon to close out their Florida-based Spring Training.

James “Big Maple” Paxton got the start this afternoon, throwing into the 6th inning and earning the eventual win. In the 4th, he gave up a lead-off single that scored on a double by a former Yankee (one of several familiar faces in today’s game). Later, in the 6th, a lead-off walk (also a former Yankee) scored on a double (another one) to double the Twins’ score.

Luis Cessa closed out the 6th for Paxton cleanly, but found his own spot of trouble in the 7th when a 1-out triple scored on a sacrifice fly (surprisingly, none of which were former Yankees). JP Feyereisen got his shot at Spring for an inning with a flawless 8th inning, and Alvarez closed out the game with a scoreless 9th.

While the Twins got the lead first, the Yankees were quick to answer back. In the top of the 6th, with 1 out, they loaded up the bases. Greg Bird’s ground out still moved all the runners up and scored lead runner Castillo. Romine worked a walk to load the bases again before the Twins changed pitchers. Clint Frazier promptly hit a solid bases-clearing double to place the Yankees in a firm lead.

In the 7th, Matt Lipka led-off with a single, stole 2nd, moved to 3rd on a fly out, and then scored on Castillo’s double. It was the insurance run they wouldn’t need with the way they were playing in the second half of the game, a stark difference to yesterday.

Final score: 5-3 Yankees

Next up: The Yankee head north in preparation for the regular season’s start on Thursday with a quick stop in our nation’s capital. They play a final Spring exhibition game at Nationals Park tomorrow night.

This last stop in a big league park gig, something that really began as a way to open new parks (like they did with the Braves’ new home stadium in 2017) is becoming a pattern across the league. It’s kind of a nice transition between Spring Training and the Regular Season. Now, if only we can get them to play all the April games in southern cities so we don’t have to worry about snow-out games…

Roster moves: We have a final 25-man roster. The biggest surprise was earlier today when the Yankees announced they optioned Tyler Wade to AAA Scranton. This means they chose their latest Yankee Mike Tauchman and his veteran versatility in the outfield over Wade’s more natural infielding skills. Certainly a disappointment for the young player, but I can’t imagine he won’t be one of the first called up when something happens.

Here’s the 2019 Yankee roster: catchers Gary Sanchez and Austin Romine; infielders Greg Bird, Luke Voit, Gleyber Torres, Troy Tulowitzki, Miguel Andujar, and DJ LeMahieu; outfielders Brett Gardner, Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, and Mike Tauchman; starting pitchers Masahiro Tanaka, James Paxton, JA Happ, Domingo German, and CC Sabathia; and relievers Aroldis Chapman, Zack Britton, Luis Cessa, Chad Green, Jonathan Holder, Tommy Kahnle, Adam Ottavino, and Stephen Tarpley.

Go Yankees!

Spring Game 29: TOR vs. NYY — Closing day collapse

Call it late-season fatigue, if you will. Call it just a last-ditch effort to show off for the scouts. Or just call it just an off-day. It started out great and just collapsed half-way through the game and never recovered. Also known in most suburban households as “Saturday afternoon”.

Again, thing started well for the Yankees. In the bottom of the 1st, with 2 outs, Stanton’s walk and Andujar’s double put them in scoring position. But Gleyber Torres’ big 3-run home run into the left field seats made it easy to do so. The Yankees spent the rest of the afternoon trying to hold onto that lead and defend it, something they just didn’t end up doing at all.

Masahiro Tanaka got the start for the Yankees, throwing a solid 2 innings in preparation for being the starting pitcher for the Home Opener next Thursday in the Bronx. He was sharp and looked like the Tanaka that commands “Tanaka Time”, so keep the faith, Yankee fans. Chapman had some trouble in the 3rd loading up the bases, but Chad Green came in and just nailed down the inning before carrying that momentum through a scoreless 4th. Even Holder got in on the fun with his own scoreless 5th.

But it was the new guy that would get the Yankees into some trouble today. Gio Gonzalez has only been facing high school and college athletes this off-season, so maybe there wasn’t enough preparation for the veteran pitcher to fight off what is essentially the Blue Jays’ AAA squad this afternoon.

In the 6th, with 1 out, Gonzalez gave up a walk and a 2-run home run to get the Jays on the board and trim the Yankees’ lead down to just 1 run. Things were looking up, but his 7th inning was just messy. With 1 out, he loaded up the bases with a hit-by-pitch, a walk, and a single. After getting a line drive out (thanks to some snazzy defense), a single and sloppy throwing error allowed all 3 runners to score and the Jays to take the lead.

Minor league reliever Kriske came on for a clean 8th but loaded up the bases again in the 9th with a double and 2 walks. Bristo came on in relief, but his first batter hit a long sacrifice fly to right field. That play combined with a slow relay allowed 2 runners to score and the other runner to make it all the way to 3rd. I don’t think I’ve ever seen 2 runs score on a sacrifice fly. It left everyone scratching their heads, which could really be the latter half of today’s game.

Final score: 7-3 Blue Jays

One to Watch: Admittedly, it really wasn’t a great day for any of the minor leaguers, so instead I will recognize pitcher Stephen Tarpley. Tarpley was honored with this year’s James P. Dawson Award for being the best rookie in camp. Tarpley has been really consistent on the mound throughout the Spring and certainly deserves the honor.

Next up: The Yankees play their final Florida-based Spring game in Fort Myers tomorrow against the Twins. They will then travel up to D.C. to play a final exhibition game on Monday night before their Home Opener on Thursday.

Roster moves: As the Yankees finalize their rosters, they are looking at the weird injury list that seem to plague their roster early this year. Before the game, the Yankees optioned pitcher Jonathan Loaisiga to AAA Scranton, with anticipation of a weird switcheroo with Sabathia and his injury and suspension flooding the first bit of the season.

And they traded pitcher Phillip Diehl for utility outfielder Mike Tauchman from the Rockies. Neither player seemed too happy about it, having spent their respective Springs building relationship with what they thought was their teammates. It will be said to see Diehl go, but hopefully Tauchman can help with the injuries still bothering Ellsbury, Hicks, and to some extent Frazier.

Expect a few more tweaks over the next few days as they winnow down to that perfect 25 and 40 before Thursday.

Go Yankees!

Spring Game 28: PHI vs. NYY — Friday night fireworks

A final game under the Friday night lights this Spring started with a slight chill in the air and ended with fireworks. Literally. The Yankees set off fireworks over the right field seats for the remaining fans in the cool night to ooh and aah over the short light show.

Of course, this was made extra special because the Yankees notched another win in the Spring tally tonight. After losing both road games, there’s something about that home field advantage that certainly seemed to help the pinstriped players in tonight’s game against the Phillies.

Jonathan Loaisiga made a fairly strong case for consideration for one of the open starting spots on the rotation, throwing into the 4th inning with 7 solid strikeouts. His lone issues were a 1-out solo shot in the 1st and a 2-out solo homer in the 3rd. Zack Britton threw 5 outs to follow him and kept the strong pitching from the Yankees’ side of things. Stephen Tarpley came on for just the final out of the 6th inning.

Adam Ottavino’s 7th inning continued that scoreless momentum, but David Hale had a bit of trouble in his 8th inning, giving up a lead-off single and walk. Two great strikeouts later, the next batter hit a deep single. But thanks to Trey Amburgey’s great arm in the left field and the relay back to the infield, the bases were only loaded, and the defense prevented at least one run from scoring. It was only a questionably called walk that scored the Phillies’ final run before Hale got yet another strikeout to get out of his jam. Then, his 9th was quick and flawless.

Meanwhile, the Yankees took some time to find their moments. Giancarlo Stanton got things started with a 2-out solo home run in the 3rd that just barely made it fair, just right of the left field foul pole. In the 5th, with 2 outs, Judge worked a walk and then scored on Stanton’s 2-run home run (back to that left field corner) to put the Yankees into the lead.

In the 6th, DJ LeMahieu hit a solid 1-out single, moved to 3rd on Urshela’s big double, and then scored the insurance run on a wild pitch. Then in the 7th, with 1 out, Zack Zehner walked and ended up at 3rd on Trey Amburgey’s big double. Luke Voit’s sacrifice fly scored Zehner and moved Amburgey to 3rd, partly because of an off-center throw from the outfield. A wild pitch then scored Amburgey to cap off the Yankees’ win.

Cue the fireworks!

Final score: 6-3 Yankees

One to Watch: We are getting to the point in the season where the minor league players play less, which makes this category difficult as there’s only so many plays and at-bats that can show off their stuff. But one name sticks out tonight — Trey Amburgey. In addition to scoring the Yankees’ final run of the night by rushing home on a wild pitch, he also showed off some great defense in left field by saving a run in the 8th.

Next up: The Yankees have their final home game of the Spring, hosting the Blue Jays for what should be a lovely Saturday afternoon of baseball.

Roster moves: Before today’s game, the Yankees made some roster moves of note. They reassigned pitchers Rex Brothers, Danny Coulombe, Phillip Diehl, and Drew Hutchison back to minor league camp. And they officially optioned Clint Frazier to AAA Scranton. This means that he is not making the 25-man roster. It’s a crowded outfield, even with Hicks still nursing his sore back. But you can imagine he’ll be the first call when something happens to one of those guys. He’ll be back in the Bronx shortly.

Injury news: On Wednesday, Special Advisor and Guest Instructor Lee Mazzilli was struck in the head with a baseball. He was helping with batting practice back in Tampa, while a large part of the team traveled to South Florida. He was immediately admitted to the hospital for tests and observations and was released today, said to be “in good spirits”. We’re all certainly glad he’s doing okay and hope he continues to recover and rest up.

Go Yankees!

Spring Game 27: NYY vs. STL — A week left of Spring, saying farewell to a friend

The Yankees finish their South Florida road trip on a sour note. Neither games ended in the Yankees’ favor. But as they head back to Tampa, there are just a handful of games left before the regular season that could right the Yankees’ rather impressive Spring this year.

Domingo German got the start against the Cardinals this afternoon and just stumbled his way into the 4th inning, starting with a lead-off solo homer in the 1st inning. A single in the 2nd, stole 2nd, moved to 3rd on a grounder, and then scored on an RBI single. Then with 2 outs, a 2-run home run secured the Cards early lead. And a 1-out solo shot in the 3rd sealed their eventual win.

Yankees’ reliever Brothers came in to close out the 4th for German, getting him out of trouble. And Stephen Tarpley’s 5th was flawless. But James Reeves had a sticky time in the 6th inning. He gave up a lead-off walk, pick-off error, and a 1-out hit-by-pitch. Then consecutive singles scored both runners, and a walk loaded up the bases.

Cale Coshow came on and just set things right with 2 strong strikeouts to close out the 6th. But he then had a bad 7th inning. Back-to-back doubles scored another run, and a single put runners on the corners. A sacrifice fly scored yet another run, and a double moved runners to scoring position so they both could score on another double. Reliever Diehl closed out the inning strong and carried that momentum through the 8th.

The Yankees struggled on the offense side too, having some trouble against the Cardinals’ pitchers. In the 3rd, Lavarnway and Lipka worked consecutive walks and then scored on Gleyber Torres’ 1-out double. Urshela led-off the 4th, moved to 3rd on a ground out, and then scored on Ryan Lavarnway’s single. And despite getting some opportunities, like in the 7th, the Yankees didn’t ever do much more to add to their score today.

Final score: 11-3 Cardinals

Next up: The Yankees head home for a Friday night game against the Phillies. There’s only 2 more home games (and 2 away games) left in the Spring season before next Thursday’s home opener in the Bronx. Yes, that’s right, only 1 week until the regular season begins.

Roster moves: after today’s game, the Yankees reassigned outfielder Billy Burns and Matt Lipka and catcher Ryan Lavarnway to minor league camp. Earlier this week, the Yankees optioned Kyle Higashioka to AAA Scranton. Higashioka will still appear in Spring games, but he will not be on the 25-man roster, though completely ready to jump up should something happen to Sanchez or Romine.

And in bittersweet news: Ichiro Suzuki is officially hanging up his cleats today. He signed with the Mariners this off-season, and in a fun twist, the Mariners and Athletics opened their regular season in a special series in Tokyo. Ichiro played in today’s game, a 12-inning marathon ending in a 5-4 Mariners’ win, and exited in the 8th to thunderous applause to his hometown crowd. It was emotional for everyone, especially the iconic 45-year-old legend. Everyone has a story about their friend and teammate, and everyone wishes him well.

While he’s worn a few different uniforms over the years, to Yankee fans, he’ll always be a Yankee. Next stop: Cooperstown.

Go Yankees!

Spring Game 26: NYY vs. HOU — Rainy start slows the Yankees’ win streak

The Yankees are an extended tour of south Florida for a few games this last week of Spring Training. First, they visited the Astros in West Palm Beach, and despite another rather rainy day that delayed today’s game 16 minutes, the game played on.

Gleyber Torres kicked off the game with a double and moved to 3rd on a fly out. Bird was hit by a pitch to put runners on the corners, and Gary Sanchez hit a 2-out double to score just Torres. But with runners in scoring position, a strikeout ended the Yankees early shot to get a good lead.

Jonathan Holder got the start and threw a rather strong 2 innings before handing things over to Nestor Cortes for the next 3 innings. The Astros didn’t find their opportunity until the 5th inning. With 1 out, consecutive singles put runners on the corners. A line drive out to 3rd and throwing error allowed 1 run to tie up the game.

Reliever Joe Harvey got 2 quick outs but then gave up a solo home run to give the Astros the lead. But then he sailed through the 7th inning, and Brothers closed out the 8th, getting out cleanly despite giving up 3 walks to load up the bases.

The Yankees had a few opportunities in the game but never got enough to regain their lead.

Final score: 2-1 Astros

Next up: The Yankees travel about 30 minutes north from today’s field to visit the Cardinals in Jupiter.

The Yankees announced today that they have signed veteran left-handed pitcher Gio Gonzalez to a minor league deal with an invite to Spring Training. He is a 2-time All-Star, formerly with the Athletics, Nationals, and Brewers over the last 11 years. And his signing with the Yankees after declaring his intent at free agency this last off-season was a “no-brainer” for him.

He will need some extended Spring Training due to his late start, having just worked out with students around his hometown in South Florida. But his presence on the team could come into play with injuries to starters Sabathia and Severino and even to reliever Betances. His contract includes an opt-out clause if he is not promoted to the major leagues by April 20. But I’m guessing we’ll see the new Yankee in pinstripes before then.

Go Yankees!

Spring Game 25: TB vs. NYY — Drizzly, dreary day can’t dampen the Yankees

For much of the morning leading up the game, the big question was whether there would be a game to play thanks to the ridiculous weather this Spring. Today’s skies began overcast and dreary and spend most of the day drizzling rain all over the area as a new front came marching across the state. Even though it really never stopped, the game played on.

The regular season home team of the Rays came to visit the Yankees Spring home for this afternoon’s game. And the Yankees decided to go with a pitching strategy the Rays tested out last season — a 1-inning opening pitcher, followed by a long-term reliever and a couple of closers. While the Rays didn’t practice their pattern, the Yankees seemed to find it work for them today.

Chad Green was the opening pitcher for the 1st inning and had a bit of trouble at first. A lead-off single raced home on another single that was aided to a sloppy fielding error in right field. But then Green quickly got 3 outs to get out of the inning. Despite getting on the board early, the Rays’ batters were stymied by the Yankees’ pitching for most of the game.

Luis Cessa threw 4 solid, scoreless innings, setting himself up for the eventual win. Britton and Coulombe kept things moving through the 6th-8th innings, before David Sosebee came out for the 9th. A lead-off walk moved to 2nd on a ground out and later scored on a 2-out single to double the visiting team’s score. It was a decent attempt at a rally that fell short.

This was, of course, due to the fact that the Yankees are really becoming quite the force this Spring. Down a run in the 1st, Judge redeemed himself for that 1st inning error at the bat. He worked a 1-out walk and then hustled home on Gary Sanchez’s double to tie up the game.

In the 3rd, with 1 out, Gardner walked and stole 2nd. He then scored on Aaron Judge’s single (the first single he’s hit all Spring, by the way). Judge scored on Giancarlo Stanton’s double, and Stanton promptly scored on Sanchez’s double. Torres led-off the 4th with a walk, stole 2nd, stole 3rd on a 2-out walk, and then scored on Billy Burns’ single. And Greg Bird smacked a big 1-out solo home run in the 5th to cap off the Yankees’ lead early.

Final score: 6-2 Yankees

One to Watch: It’s Thairo Estrada again today, mostly for his stellar defense. It’s always after he makes some outstanding play, like laying out for a catch in the infield dirt or one of those nifty jump-throws, that I’m reminded that just over a year ago, he was shot in a botched robbery in his home of Venezuela.

As a reminder, last January, Estrada and his wife were going out to eat when two teenagers approached to demand cash and his phone, but as he had neither on him, they panicked and shot the young prospect. They were never caught, a symptom of the awful situation currently ravaging the South American country.

Actually, Estrada still has the bullet lodged in his hip and spent the last season plagued by injuries to his back and hamstring in effort to come back eventually. And this Spring, he’s put much of the trauma and drama of last year behind him. He’s really showing why he still should be considered one of the Yankees’ most talented prospects. (The current rankings have him much lower than he should be, but the latest rankings will be released and updated following the finalization of current 25-man and 40-man rosters this next week.)

Next up: The Yankees will travel to West Palm Beach (about 3.5 hours southeast of Tampa) to visit the Astros tomorrow and see the Cardinals on Thursday in nearby Jupiter. Just a few games left of this Spring, and things are still going strong for the Yankees. How that translates to the regular season is still very much up for the talking heads and “barstool managers” to make their infamous sweeping declarations, and the teams to prove them all wrong.

Injury news: Unfortunately, it looks like Dellin Betances will begin 2019 on the disabled list thanks to some right shoulder inflammation and impingement. The impingement is when “you raise your arm to shoulder height, the space between the acromion [top corner shoulder bone] and rotator cuff [tendons connecting shoulder and arm] narrows. The acromion can rub against (or ‘impinge’ on) the tendon and the bursa [fluid sac that helps the shoulder rotate], causing irritation and pain.” In other words, even just working out the shoulder could further aggravate the initial injury.

This means that Betances will need to reduce the inflammation and treat with some physical therapy and steroid injections to combat all the overuse of the shoulder, one would guess to be rather common in pitchers, especially those who throw as hard as he does. But the advantage is that the Yankees have a lot of depth in their bullpen. So a little delay in Betances’ 2019 start won’t harm the Yankees that much.

Before today’s game, the Yankees called on a fellow athlete to throw out the ceremonial first pitch. Wearing her medals, Olympic jacket, and a Yankees cap, Abbey Burns threw to her brother, Yankees’ minor leaguer Billy Burns. She is a noted Special Olympics equestrian and swimming athlete and holds records in several categories of Paralympic American swimming.

Go Yankees!