Spring Game 22: TB vs. NYY — An unusually messy 6th

Another evening of baseball at Steinbrenner Field. Another potential Spring thunderstorm that threatened but never quite materialized. Another popular “hometown” crowd. Another sell-out crowd. Another fireworks display following a loss.

But a much better CC Sabathia start tonight against the visiting Rays, despite him earning the loss and giving up a couple of runs. But hey, that’s what’s special about Spring — because nothing really matters except individual growth of the players and organizational growth as a team. So all those fancy numbers “they” like to splash around mean exactly what snow means to most Floridians — absolutely nothing.

Anyway, Sabathia had a much better start today, going 5 full innings, giving up 6 hits, a walk, and 2 runs, and striking out 4 Rays batters. One run came in the 1st inning — a 2-out solo home run at the base of the big score board in left-center field. The other run in the 2nd, when a lead-off double hustled home on an RBI single. A sweet double play happened later in that inning when Headley at 3rd snagged a nice line drive and got the runner at 2nd out when he doubled off the bag.

Sabathia then nearly cruised through the next three innings, keeping the Rays away from adding to their lead further. So he handed the ball over to prospect Tyler Olson, who has lately been rather a reliable resource in the prospective bullpen but seemed to just fall to pieces tonight. The 6th inning mess went like this: a really nice lead-off triple, a ground out that kept the runner at 3rd, a batter hit by a pitch (he’s okay), an RBI single, another hit-by-pitch (pinch-runner on board as he limps back to the dugout) that loaded the bases, a force out at 2nd that scored another run, a walk to load the bases, and a 2-RBI single to give the Rays a monster run-scoring inning and Olson the door to the clubhouse.

On came Kirby Yates, who’s been a cautious reliever this Spring and it’s cost him some outings. But tonight, he seemed to really go for it. He got the Yankees out of the 6th with a nice strikeout, and then pitched through the 7th getting another strikeout and keeping any Rays batters off the bases. Handing the ball over to Chasen Shreve is always a good idea, as it was tonight in the 8th inning. (Can we just say this guy is a solid bullpen guy already?) And Branden Pinder had a nice 9th inning outing, plowing through the Rays’ line up to close out the Yankees’ pitching for tonight.

The Yankees’ offense, on the other hand, wasn’t as sharp or even as messy as their pitchers were tonight. It was just kind of non-descript, save a couple of hits. Down 2-0 in the 2nd, McCann led off the inning with a double and then scored on Carlos Beltran’s RBI single. Then the minor league guys in the 7th made an attempt at reducing the runs deficit with Pete Kozma’s just beautiful 1-out triple which put him in the perfect position to score on a wild pitch.

Despite getting 8 hits and a walk, the Yankees’ offense didn’t compose more than that tonight. But tonight was strikeout heaven for both rotations — 9 strike outs by Yankees pitchers, 10 by the Rays. Basically, everyone was swinging at air tonight.

Final score: 6-2 Rays.

Roster update: The Yankees announced before the game tonight that catcher Gary Sanchez was optioned to AAA and reassigned to minor league camp. For those of you watching that back-up catcher race (between Sanchez and Austin Romine), that seems to solidify the Yankees’ choice for that role this year, though no one has come out and said so as of yet. To be fair, Romine has done a really good job at and behind the plate this Spring, better than I’ve seen him play in a really long time, so this very well could be his big league year.

And the “one to watch” tonight: Pete Kozma. That 7th inning triple and run scored was the lone Yankee offensive contribution among the minors guys, but Kozma is also quite at home in the infield, especially on the left side of said infield. Tonight, he came in at short stop, but he’s also played some 3rd base rather well at previous games. Kozma seems to be finding his stride offensively and finding his home defensively, and it’s nice to watch someone just click into place sometimes.

In awards and honors news, before the game, the Yankees awarded the 2015 Kevin Lawn Awards for the Yankees minor league “Pitcher of the Year” and “Player of the Year” to Luis Severino and Gary Sanchez for their outstanding performances on last year’s minor league teams. The awards are named for the son of the Yankees longtime COO Jack Lawn and honor the player development of the organization every year. A well-deserved congratulations to both!

Go Yankees!

{Media note: once again, no broadcast (which really doesn’t make sense for a lot of reasons, least of which being that the Rays have a broadcast team and deal here in Florida already with a local affiliate of Fox Sports). Anyway, that means no highlights. Hope my descriptions can help spur your imagination instead!}

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