Spring Games 9 & 10: NYY vs. BAL & TOR vs. NYY — Split squad struggles

The Yankees split their afternoon between home in Tampa against the visiting Blue Jays and down in Sarasota against the Orioles. At one point about halfway through the nearly simultaneous games, it looked like the Yankees were going to pull off a double win. And then it all just unraveled in both locations.

First up, the home game (because I’d rather get the really bad news over with first) against the Blue Jays. Look, it was a lovely day for baseball — a rather warm March afternoon, blue skies, slight breeze, and sunshine everywhere. And there was hope with a couple of pitchers making their Spring debuts today — one exceeded expectations, the other did not.

Nathan Eovaldi started today’s game and was just stellar — 6 consecutive outs, 22 pitches, in 2 innings, putting up zeros across the board (no runs, no hits, no walks, no strikeouts, no Blue Jay on base). That’s how you begin your season. But then came the trio to hold down the back end of the bullpen. Andrew Miller continued to struggle some giving up 4 hits, no walks, and 2 runs, and striking out 2 players in the 3rd inning. With 1 out, he loaded the bases with consecutive singles before a 4th allowed single scored 2 runners and gave the Jays the lead.

Turning the game over to Dellin Betances in the 4th inning was like flipping the switch back on for the Yankees and their defense, including a ridiculous diving catch by center fielder prospect Ben Gamel. Betances had his own 3-up, 3-down inning and righted the course for the Yankees. Until closer Aroldis Chapman made his Spring debut in the 5th. I’ve watched this guy pitch before, and he can throw triple-digit speeds like it’s no big deal, but sometimes he’s a little rough as to where the strike zone is. And today, he showed the rustiness. With 2 outs, and bases loaded due to 2 hit-by-pitches (though I’m not entirely sure he actually hit one of those guys) and a walk, a second walk scored another run for the Blue Jays and prompted them to pull in the next pitcher for 4 outs.

Moreno got that final out, but then just crumbled in his 6th inning outing. With 1 out and 2 runners on with a single and a walk, a ground-rule double scored one and started the big inning for the Jays. A throwing error scored another, before a 3-run home run completed the 5-run inning for the Blue Jays giving them a fairly hefty lead. Cloyd’s 7th inning was almost tame in comparison, but should be noted as no one scored a run while he was on the mound (a feat hard to come by today, apparently).

Pestano’s 8th inning didn’t help matters — a lead-off single, an RBI standing triple, and an RBI double all before any outs were recorded. And Webb was going strong in the 9th inning getting 2 quick outs, before a solid triple took the wind out of that sail and a nice double scored the Jays’ final run of the afternoon.

The Yankees’ offense wasn’t exactly quiet, at least not in the first half of the game. In the bottom of the 3rd inning (down 2-0), with 1 out, Fowler double and Kozma walked, and things got interesting. Carlos Beltran’s single scored Fowler, and runners would end up at 2nd and 3rd on a throwing error. Alex Rodriguez’s ground out scored a run to tie up the game and force the Toronto starter out.

The Yankees came back in the 4th inning with 1 out and a runner on with a single for minor leaguer Jonathan Diaz to hit a beautiful 2-run home run to push the Yankees ahead. But that was it for offense. The Toronto bullpen (unlike New York’s) was able to shut the Yankees down and keep them from collecting runs while their own offense just marched all over the Yankees.

Final score in Tampa: 11-4 Blue Jays.

Now, about an hour and a half (in rush hour traffic) south of game one, the Yankees visited the Orioles and dealt with their own highs and lows. Bryan Mitchell did a decent job starting the game for the Yankees, giving up just 1 run to the Orioles, a solo shot in the 1st inning. But he got the ball rolling that the next two relievers helped keep the birds away.

And things looked pretty good for the Yankees here. Right up until the 7th inning. Reliever James Pazos joined the defense in their struggles to get out of the inning. A single, 2 strikeouts, a runner reaching on a fielding error, and a walk loaded the bases, and a single scored Baltimore a run and forced Pazos out of the game. Prospect Chad Green came on (with Pazos responsible for all 3 runners on base), and gave up a 2-run single and the defense complicated matters with a sloppy throwing error, before Green got the final batter to fly out and end the inning.

The final two relievers did an excellent job of keeping the bases clear in hope the Yankee offense would find something to help them, but it never came. The Yankees got an early start at the offense right off the start of the game. Ellsbury and Refsnyder, on base with consecutive singles, scored on Starlin Castro’s double and Aaron Hick’s ground out, respectively. And then they added to this in the 5th inning when Higashioka and Ellsbury singled on base and then scored on Castro’s second RBI double.

But there would be no last-minute rally, for either team, and being Spring Training, no extra innings to break the tie. To be fair, the game in Sarasota was much better played and pitched (for both teams really).

Final score in Sarasota: 4-4 (tie).

Okay, honestly, out of both games, the best “one to watch” happened at home: Ben Gamel. Gamel came in for Fowler in the 4th inning when Fowler took off for a pre-approved doctor’s visit. And it’s a good thing, as Gamel went all “superman” in center field to make that amazing catch.

Go Yankees!

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