The most interesting little tidbit about today’s match-up when the Yankees visited the Twins is that outfielder Aaron Hicks was part of a trade this offseason that moved him from the Twins to the Yankees in exchange for catcher John Ryan Murphy, both of whom started this afternoon’s game in Ft. Myers (a couple hours south of Tampa on the Florida Gulf Coast). And oddly, they both were rather large contributors for their new respective teams — like Hicks showing his instinct and power in a great double play in the 4th inning. (Sounds like a fairly even trade to me in light of the outcome.)
Ivan Nova started the game for the Yankees today, not really having the best outing or making a strong case for that 5th starter position (between him and Sabathia, really, more on this later). Nova threw into the 5th inning, giving up 5 hits, 3 walks, and 4 runs, and striking out just 2 batters. In the 2nd, he loaded the bases quickly with 2 singles and a walk, before three identical plays (a force ground out to 2nd) scored 2 runners and ended the inning, escaping further harm. And in the 5th, aforementioned previous Yankee led-off by working a walk, moved to 3rd on a double, and then scored (with the other runner) on a deep 2-RBI single.
That forced Nova out of the game and turned things over to Bryan Mitchell, who is quickly becoming one of those reliable fixtures in the bullpen (like Shreve). Mitchell quickly shut down the Twins and kept that momentum going through the next 2 innings as well, eventually earning him the win (rightfully so too). This then continued through the near flawless Swarzak and Barbato to close out the game for the Yankees.
Now, there were two things that really saved Nova (and subsequently the other relievers) from total loss today — a ridiculous defense and an active offense. That offense began in the 3rd inning, with the Yankees down 2-0. Kozma walked, Torreyes singled, and Gamel reached on a fielding error to load the bases, and then Brett Gardner worked a walk to get the Yankees on the scoreboard. Then Aaron Hicks added one more with a sacrifice flysacrifice fly, and Brian McCann’s ground out pushed the Yankees ahead by 1 run.
Then the 5th was all about Ben Gamel. Torreyes singled but then got caught when Gamel ground into a force out. Gamel then stole 2nd, moved to 3rd on Gardner’s ground out, and then scored on a balk (the first called balk of the Spring in a Yankees game, by the way). And in the 8th, with the game tied up, Cesar Puello led-off with a 1st pitch big solo home run over the right field wall. Then Romero drew a 1-out walk, moved into scoring position on Parmelee’s ground out, and then scored on Eddy Rodriguez’s double for that insurance run.
Final score: 6-4 Yankees
Okay, the “ones to watch” today are fairly easy: Puello and Gamel, mainly for their offensive contributions, but they are assets in that outfield. But I’m really not surprised to find these guys being serious contributors (or anyone else I’ve listed in this section).
Look, in the past 4 years, I’ve seen some really amazing young talent in the farm system on display during March, enough for it to become a favorite of Spring Training. It certainly gives me hope for the future of the organization. Think about the people who watched future legends in similar context. Would they have guessed that some of those guys would go on to wear the now-retired numbers in Monument Park? I wonder which of these guys might get such an honor one day. See, that’s part of the fun of this game… you just never know.
A brief update on Jacoby Ellsbury’s hand injury from yesterday. Currently, he is listed as day-to-day, nursing that sore hand and waiting to be able to do simple things like grip a bat or a ball without wincing in pain. So while he is looking to making the Spring roster again as early as Thursday night’s game, really he’s just focusing on being ready for Opening Day.
And a quick note on the starting rotation (as mentioned earlier in the post). As of now, the Yankees have a plethora of starters — Eovaldi, Pineda, Severino, Tanaka, Nova and Sabathia. Technically, on Spring stats alone, Eovaldi, Pineda, Severino, and Tanaka are a lock for the rotation. But Nova and Sabathia have had an equally bad March so far — Nova still trying to find that rhythm after his Tommy John surgery in late 2014, Sabathia always struggles in Spring but wanting to make sure his personal off-season recovery didn’t hinder any pre-season readiness.
Honestly, my thoughts are they will opt to go with Sabathia as the veteran for the rotation and move Nova to the bullpen; Nova also has bullpen experience, whereas Sabathia does not. Or they may opt for a 6-man rotation through April to see how everyone settles into the season, and to cushion it in hopes of lessening the strain of another rotation injury (as has plagued the pitching staff a lot these last few years). But then, I don’t make those decisions and all of those thoughts are simply suppositions (a smart-sounding word for gossip, really).
It will be what it is come April 4. And I’ll be rooting for the Yankees to grab that 28th championship this year.