Spring Game 11: Tanaka’s flawless debut sets the evening pace

If you didn’t know who was pitching on arrival, it would have become very obvious based on the increase of Japanese media. Masahiro Tanaka, still a major star back home in Japan, made his Spring debut tonight against the visiting Braves before a sold-out crowd. His 19 pitches (15 of which were nasty strikes) meant 6 quick outs in his 2 innings. With his fastball topping out at 94 mph, Tanaka isn’t quite back up to his Tanaka-ness yet, but he’s certainly on his way.

Setting that pace in a very quick game (2 hours and 26 minutes total), the Yankee pitchers soon followed up with some pretty good pitching themselves. 3rd-5th inning reliever Scott Baker continued the flawless outs into the 5th inning, giving the Yankees 13 straight put-outs before an Atlanta batter doubled in the 5th. That runner would then score on a later single. 6th inning pitcher David Carpenter got into the only spot of trouble on the pitching roster tonight, when 2 back-to-back singles led to another run scored on a sacrifice fly, before finding his footing again and getting out of the inning without further damage.

But the Yankees were quickly back on track with a flawless Justin Wilson in the 7th, followed up by the great outings of Davis and W. Rodriguez in the 8th and 9th innings, respectively.

With the assumed starting roster solidly behind Tanaka and Co. tonight, the Braves didn’t really stand much of a chance beyond clean hits. Sometimes, when you watch a mish-mash of guys from various regular rosters all over the organization, you don’t see the solid defense and teamwork of a unified team, so it was rather refreshing to watch such a game, such a team this evening. I had to chuckle to myself at the thought of all these players from teams across the country (save Gardner) that now are bound together by pinstripes, finding a home with and the grace of teamwork in many former opponents.

Oh, and they also hit some tonight. Didi Gregorius led-off the 3rd inning with a really beautiful triple and would later score on Brett Gardner’s groundout. Gregorius was hit in the upper thigh by a pitch during his at-bat in the 5th inning, coming out just a half-inning earlier than planned. No worries; he’s fine, a bit bruised, but fine. Headley led off the 7th inning with a single, followed by a walk from Drew. Both were replaced by their “replacement guys” Galvez and Pirela, respectively. Then Jake Cave smacked a ground-rule double to score Galvez, and Nick Noonan’s sacrifice fly nicely scored Pirela.

I never really worry when the Yankees are down in a close game like tonight. They went into the 7th down 2-1, and ended up going into the 8th 3-2 over the Braves. Why do I not worry? Because those “replacement guys” can hit and love to hit in those later innings. I wasn’t worried because the guys trying to prove themselves in the Yankees farm system are full of energy and tenacity unlike I’ve seen in previous Springs recently.

I was talking with a stadium employee following the game. We were joking that while we love it when the Yankees win, it certainly pays off to remember that none of these games matter. Which is why it didn’t really make any sense for the Braves’ manager to be arguing balls and strikes with the home plate umpire. In the 1st inning. Right after his pitcher threw his first pitch to a batting Ellsbury. It was very obviously a ball. And the manager was very obviously ejected almost before he stepped up to the umpire to argue. Sometimes, I guess, getting caught up in what is essentially a month-long schedule of exhibition games can make someone forget that they don’t count. If it looks like a game and sounds like a game and feels like a game, but the calendar reads March, it doesn’t count.

But I’ll always take a win. A win under clear, albeit warmer than usual, night sky at “The Boss”. It’s a good way to spend a Thursday evening in my books.

Go Yankees!

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