Spring Game 17: BAL vs. NYY — Definitely not a rout, a come-from-behind victory

Another cool night at Steinbrenner Field under the light watching the Yankees take on a divisional rival and battle it all the way to the end. It certainly didn’t lean in favor of the home team for much of the game, but it certainly wasn’t terrible. A hostile fan nearby even commented that he was upset over the Yankees’ “rout”. Which was a complete misnomer. The Yankees were behind, but only by 3 runs, still in “save” territory. It was never a rout. A rout is when one team beats the other by ridiculous scoring — like the 2007 Rangers defeating the Orioles 30-3.

Jonathan Loaisiga got the start for the Yankees tonight against the visiting Orioles and got roughed up a bit in his 2 innings. A lead-off walk moved to 2nd on a sacrifice bunt and then stole 3rd. A bad throwing error on that steal allowed the runner to score easily. But then he got 3 strikeouts in a row into the 2nd inning. Three consecutive singles scored one run, and a 2-out walk loaded up the bases. All three runners scored on a big double, and that runner scored on an RBI single.

Zack Britton came in to settle things down for the Yankees, nearly sailing through his 2 innings. Chapman and Green followed suit, each with a strong inning of their own. Jonathan Holder’s 7th would have been perfect except for a 2-out solo home run that allowed the Orioles to get one more run in tonight. Tarpley’s stint in the final 2 innings kept the O’s from adding any more.

The Yankees were definitely hitting far more than the Orioles, collecting 14 total hits tonight and spreading them out over the game. In the 1st, Gardner led-off with a walk and scored as part of Aaron Judge’s solid 2-run home run to get the Yankees on the board, and at that point, narrowly ahead of the Orioles.

In the 4th, down by those aforementioned 3 runs, with 1 out, Tulowitzki made it safely to 1st thanks to a bad throwing error. After another out, Brett Gardner smacked a 2-run home run to edge the Yankees closer to the leading Orioles. With 2 outs in the 5th, Andujar singled, was pinch-run by Wade, moved to 3rd on Sanchez’s single, and then scored on Greg Bird’s single.

As a sort of final ditch effort, the Yankees used a veteran pitcher’s off-day to their advantage in the 8th. Kyle Higashioka led-off with a big solo home run over the left field concourse. Then Saez’s single, Kyle Holder’s hit-by-pitch, and Florial’s 1-out single loaded the bases. The remaining fans were electrified, and all those organic chants and cheering were almost deafening at time.

Trey Amburgey works his way through a walk for Saez to score the tying run and keep the bases loaded. After a pitching change, Clint Frazier smacked a long sacrifice fly that scored the winning run — Kyle Holder.

Final score: 8-7 Yankees

One to Watch: I’m giving it again to Kyle Holder. Tonight, his defense at short stop was just outstanding. He was always where he needed to be to keep the Orioles from adding to their score in the latter part of the game. Plus, he got the honor of scoring the winning run. He’s just something to watch all Spring so far.

Next up: The Yankees will host the Phillies tomorrow night, with back-to-back home night games.

Roster moves: Every Spring, the Yankees always invite all 40 players on their regular roster. Plus, the ask members of the Yankees organization from around the minor leagues to come to camp and work out with the 40-man roster. In the process, those extra players get re-assigned to various minor league teams for the season, and some of the slots on the 40-man might shake up a bit.

So, last week, the cuts, options, and reassignments began. Lockers were emptied and players sent to minor league camp (that happens privately and simultaneously to the public Spring Training). Last Wednesday, the Yankees optioned pitcher Domingo Acevedo to AA Trenton and reassigned pitchers Brady Lail and Trevor Stephan to minor league camp.

Sunday, they optioned pitcher Albert Abreu to AA Trenton. And before today’s game, they optioned pitchers Chance Adams and Joe Harvey to AAA Scranton and reassigned pitchers Cale Coshow and Danny Farquhar and catcher Kellin Deglan to minor league camp. Then after tonight’s game, they optioned Thairo Estrado to AAA Scranton and reassigned Trey Amburgey and Mike Ford to minor league camp.

Many of these faces I expect we’ll see again, maybe even this Spring in the case of split squad games.

Go Yankees!

{Media note: Again, the later great plays are missing again in the available video highlights for you. My apologies.}

Spring Games 15 & 16: NYY vs. DET & PIT vs. NYY — A draw and a win on a sunny Sunday

Another split squad series, another sunny and hot afternoon, another set of mixed results. At least today’s results leaned positive for the Yankees.

Game 1: Yankees at Detroit
Some of the Yankees traveled about 40 minutes east to visit the Tigers again in Lakeland and honestly battled their way through the afternoon in an oddly evenly-matched game. Nestor Cortes got the started and pitched his way into the 3rd inning, only giving up a lead-off solo home run in the 2nd.

Then the Yankees and Tigers kept the game close for most of the game, thanks to the great defense and pitching on both sides. The Yankees didn’t find their breakthrough until the 7th. Voit led-off with a walk and was pinch-run by Brandon Wagner. Miguel Andujar then hit a big double, and Wagner made an effort to score the Yankees’ first run. But a great relay got him out at home, with Andujar making it to 3rd on the throw. He was then pinch-run by Cabrera, who finally scored a Yankees’ run on Ryan Lavarnway’s single.

Another out later, the Yankees loaded up the bases with 2 walks. But a pitching change and a pop-up ended their attempt to break the tie. But Brandon Wagner broke it in the 8th with a 2-out solo home run, and the Yankees had their lead for the first time all afternoon in Lakeland.

It didn’t last long. In the bottom of the 8th, Danny Farquhar came out for the Yankees to try to protect the lead. A lead-off single was quickly caught stealing 2nd for his first out, and after another out, he loaded up the bases with 3 consecutive walks. David Hale came on in relief and promptly walked in the tying and final run.

Final score: 2-2 tie

Game 2: Pirates at Yankees
Meanwhile, back home in Tampa, the Yankees battled the visiting Pirates for the afternoon. JA Happ got the start at Steinbrenner Field, pitching 4 innings and struggling a bit in the middle. In the 2nd, with 1 out and runners on the corners with singles, a sacrifice fly scored the Pirates’ first run. And back-to-back solo home runs in the 3rd gave the Pirates a solid lead.

The Yankees finally found their offense in the 4th. They loaded up the bases with walks to 3 power-hitters — Judge, Stanton, and Bird. Gleyber Torres was then walked to scored Judge for the Yankees’ first run of the day in Tampa. With a new pitcher, Troy Tulowitzki ground into a double play, but it still scored Stanton and moved Bird to 3rd. Clint Frazier’s single then scored Bird to tie up the game in a single inning. Then in the 5th, Gio Urshela led-off with a solo home run to put the Yankees in the lead.

Adam Ottavino’s 5th inning was just filthy stuff, catching the eye of both fellow Yankees and their opponents. It was very much a “blink and you miss it” kind of inning, with the new Yankees just getting 3 straight strikeouts. Chapman followed that up with a solid 6th inning of his own, and things were looking up for the Yankees as they tried to gain some further momentum.

But Dellin Betances had a bit of a struggle in his 7th inning. He gave up a lead-off triple, due in part to some sun-influenced defensive issues. A single then scored that runner to tie the game up again. After a solid strikeout, he walked 2 batters to load up the batters. Jonathan Holder came in to try to save the inning, giving up a sacrifice fly that put the Pirates back on top.

In the bottom of the 8th, the Yankees weren’t going to let this game go just yet. Jackson led-off with a single and then scored on Zack Zehner’s monster 2-run home run over the left field concourse to get the lead back to the home team. Tommy Kahnle’s final 4 outs closed out the game and protected the Yankees’ lead.

Final score: 6-5 Yankees

One to watch: I’m going to give today’s honor to Gio Urshela, who’s really been rising in recognition this Spring. And today, in addition to being the Yankees’ starting 3rd baseman, he also hit that great home run in the 5th to put the Yankees in their first lead of the afternoon. He was traded to the Yankees late last year after stints with the Indians and Blue Jays, playing in the big leagues with both previous teams. He’s not really been on anyone’s radar, but he could potentially be some great back-up for the infield should problems arise this season.

Next up: after an off-day tomorrow (Monday), the Yankees will take on the Orioles at home Tuesday night. There’s 15 scheduled games left, just a little more than halfway through the Spring, or about 2 weeks.

In Yankee Universe news: Babe Ruth’s last living daughter, Julia Ruth Stevens, died Saturday at the age of 102. Ruth adopted Julia when he married her mother in 1929, but she remained an avid fan of Ruth’s original team, the Red Sox, being a frequent fan in the stands up until a few years ago. Our thoughts and condolences are with her son, two grandchildren, and four great grandchildren at this time.

Go Yankees!

{Media note: Neither game today was broadcast, so there was minimal video highlights to share. Apologies, fans!}

Spring Game 14: NYY vs. BAL — Solid Saturday (almost) shutout

There’s nothing like a little Saturday night baseball. Of course, a win after a messy loss helps make it a bit better. The Yankees headed down to Sarasota to play the Orioles this evening in their first night away game, mainly just showing up and playing baseball helped solidify their win tonight.

Luis Cessa got the start tonight and just dominated the Orioles for 4 innings and setting himself up for the eventual win. Tarpley, Abreu, and Diehl followed suit through keeping the O’s scoreless through 8 innings. Harvey then came in for the 9th and gave up a lead-off solo home run to break the shutout for the home team.

But the Yankees gave their pitchers enough run support to attempt that collective shutout. Tyler Wade led-off the game with a ground-rule double, moved to 3rd on a fly out, and then scored on Gary Sanchez’s sacrifice fly. Then in the 4th, Torres doubled and scored on Greg Bird’s 1-out single.

Urshela led-off the 5th with a double and then scored when Trey Amburgey made it all the way to 2nd on a throwing error. Billy Burns’ double then scored Amburgey, and Burns promptly stole 3rd. Two outs later, Sanchez’s single scored Burns to keep the runs coming.

Finally, in the 9th, Angel Aguilar kicked off the inning with a solo home run. But after some more messy fielding and runners on the corners, the Orioles made a final pitching change and got out of the game without further damage.

Final score: 6-1 Yankees

Next up: the Yankees play another set of split squad games tomorrow. Part of the team will travel to Lakeland to face the Tigers, and the rest will stay in Tampa to host the Pirates.

And it’s official. The Yankees have announced that Masahiro Tanaka will be their Opening Day starter when the Yankees play in Baltimore on March 28. It was supposed to be Severino, but with his recent shoulder injury, the chances of his being in the rotation any time soon is looking less likely. Another option would have been Sabathia, but he will likely be starting the year on the disabled list and then has to serve his 5-game suspension for the game in late September against the Rays before setting foot on the mound.

Paxton and Happ will follow in the rotation order with the other two spots wide open for possibilities. Logical choices could be tonight’s starter Cessa, Loaisiga, or German or some combination of the three long-term relievers. This could include that weird opener method the Rays used — having a short reliever for the 1st inning, then a series of 1-2 long relievers before a closer finishes the game. In other words, there are options.

Go Yankees!

Spring Game 13: DET vs. NYY — Friday night lights, close but kind of sloppy

There’s an old saying that a bad dress rehearsal means that you’re going to have a great performance. I’m not sure I believe this for a number of reasons that I won’t unpack right now, but I know the heart behind this message is to try to get all the bad out of the way when it doesn’t matter.

When things go poorly in Spring Training, a common sentiment is that the games don’t really matter. But of course it does. Everyone is trying to show they either deserve a shot at the roster or that they are continuing to grow as regular players and don’t deserve to lose their roster spot to a rookie in the wings. (Yes, all those theater references for you fellow theater nerds.)

As we all know, baseball is a game full of failure. The best batter will fail to hit the ball at all about 70% of the time. The best pitcher will still give up runs (for example, Mariano Rivera gave up 340 total runs in his 19 years). Even in a so-called “perfect game”, it’s never going to be 27 strikeouts, and in fact, those with the record 20 strikeouts in a game didn’t have a perfect games.

So bad games are going to happen. People have off-days. You can’t win 162 games. But that doesn’t mean you don’t try.

Masahiro Tanaka got the start in tonight’s game against the visiting Tigers and pitched his way into the 4th inning. Actually, he got off to a great start, plowing through the first 4 outs and collecting 5 total strikeouts. In the 2nd, he gave up a 1-out walk that moved to 2nd on a single before he and Torres partnered for a stellar pick-off. But a double scored that other runner to get the Tigers on the board. He also gave up a 1-out solo home run in the 3rd.

Zack Britton got the final 2 outs of the 4th, finding Tanaka’s earlier momentum and handing it off to Dellin Betances. There’s been some talk about Betances lower velocity, but he’s getting the outs, like tonight’s quick clean 5th inning, so I’m not sure there’s much to worry about just yet.

Meanwhile, the Yankees actually were the first on the board in the 1st inning. Judge worked a 1-out walk, and then Giancarlo Stanton smacked his first home run of the Spring, a no-doubter, 2-run home run deep over the left field concourse area.

So when the Tigers tied up things in the 3rd, the Yankees found their pace to defend their home turf and hold onto the tie until they could find their opportunity. But while opportunity came several times, the Yankees didn’t capitalize on them enough to shift things back into their favor for long.

Domingo German got the opportunity for some long-term relief for 3 innings, starting with a scoreless 6th. In the 7th, a lead-off double scored on an RBI single before he got 3 consecutive strikeouts.

The Yankees’ offense found one of those opportunities in the bottom of the 7th. With 1 out, LeMahieu doubled and was pinch-run by Cabrera. Austin Romine hit a solid 2-out double to score Cabrera, and Lavarnway came in to pinch-run for Romine. Kyle Holder then singled home Lavarnway to grab the lead again.

But German had struggled a bit in the 8th, not helped at all by a sloppy defense. With 2 outs and 2 runners on base with a walk and hit-by-pitch, consecutive singles scored both runners, the last one in part due to a missed catch error in an attempt to get the runner out at home.

Tommy Kahnle got the chance to calm things down in the 9th, but the defense hadn’t found itself yet. A fielding error due to the lights allowed the lead-off batter to make it to 1st. And 1-out double scored the Tigers’ insurance run before Kahnle took control and shut things down.

The Yankees made an attempt at a rally in the bottom of the 9th. With 2 outs, Kyle Holder smacked a big solo home run, the ball landing on top of the roof of the bar in the right field bleachers. A double and walk kept hopes alive before a short pop-up closed out the game, with the Yankees a run too short.

Final score: 6-5 Tigers

One to Watch: I’ve got to give it to the minor leaguer that kept the Yankees alive in those latter innings — Kyle Holder. That 9th inning home run certainly settled things for me in this category, but Holder’s been one of those to watch for some time. He’s a great defender as an infielder, and his bat is clicking in high-impact moments. He could be one of those names to keep an eye on for more than just trade bait one day.

Next up: the Yankees play their first night game away tomorrow against the Orioles in Sarasota (about an hour south of Tampa).

Before tonight’s game, the Yankees formally announced this year’s HOPE Week dates — June 17-21. HOPE Week is the week during the season that the Yankees recognize 5 local non-profit organizations for their impact in their community, gifting them with their volunteering time, a monetary donation, and public recognition. This will be their 10th year of this program.

As they do every year, to kick-off the announcement, they also recognized a local non-profit in Tampa during Spring Training that helps their local community. This year’s honoree is Gigi’s Playhouse, a great center that caters specifically to children with Down Syndrome and their families, including programs that help with therapeutic and educational skills, career development, and global acceptance, all free of cost. Gigi’s Playhouse is an international organization that has centers all over North America, but the Tampa location opened just last August.

Go Yankees!

Spring Game 12: NYY vs. PHI — Good pitching makes all the difference

In contrast to yesterday’s game, the Yankees certainly found their pitching dominance to shut out the Phillies at their home field this afternoon. Led by two off-season veteran acquisitions, the Yankees proved that being good on paper can translate to being good in reality. Add in some decent offense, and it was a beautiful day for Yankees baseball. Even if they were in Clearwater (rather than at home across the Bay in Tampa).

James Paxton (also known as “Big Maple” thanks to his Canadian roots and giant maple leaf arm tattoo) got the start today and powered his way into the 4th inning, setting the scoreless and strikeout momentum for the rest of the pitching staff today. He handed the ball over to reliever Adam Ottavino who plowed through 5 outs with 3 amazing strikeouts.

With recent and lingering injuries, especially with the pitching staff, it’s rather reassuring to have some of the new guys come out and stay strong. A sigh of relief, perhaps, as they sort out how to deal with those pesky injuries and cope with the hole they leave in the roster and state of play.

Relievers Holder, Farquhar, and Hale split the final half of the game and kept the Phillies scoreless through the end of the afternoon. In total, Yankee pitchers got 12 strikeouts off Phillies’ batters.

Of course, Phillies’ pitchers weren’t exactly going easy on the visiting Yankees (including 13 strikeouts). But the Yankee batters found their moments. In the 4th, Miguel Andujar led-off with a single and moved to 2nd on Voit’s walk. Two outs and a new pitcher later, a wild pitch moved the runners to scoring position, and another one scored Andujar to give the Yankees their first run.

The Yankees loaded up the bases as Andujar led-off the 6th with another single, Voit walked again, and Bird worked a 1-out walk. Clint Frazier’s sacrifice fly scored Andujar. But it was Estevan Florial’s solid 3-run home run that had everyone talking this afternoon. One comparison was made in the moment to the likes of Reggie Jackson, who happened to be sitting in the dugout today.

Mike Ford led-off the 8th with a solo home run for just one more run for the Yankees today. Unnecessary for the win, but a solid continuation of the great day and win for the Yankees.

Final score: 6-0 Yankees

Next up: The Yankees will host the Tigers tomorrow night back in Tampa.

Go Yankees!

Spring Game 11: STL vs. NYY — Chilled out at home

It’s not often that the opposing team seems to outnumber the home team. At least at Yankee games. But it was a sea of red as Cardinals fans flocked to Steinbrenner Field to cheer on their chosen team this afternoon. And despite all the warnings before the season about the pace of play and the 20-second pitching clock, none of that seemed to be enforced or occurring in this long (3 hours and 35 minutes), chilly (59°) game under clear blue skies.

Jonathan Loaisiga got the start today against the Cards and really sailed his way through most of the first 2 innings but then got into some real trouble in the 3rd. A lead-off solo home run in the 2nd got the Cards on the board, but Loaisiga kept going and struck out 3 batters that inning alone (eventually collecting 5 strikeouts of his 7 total outs). In the 3rd, a 1-out double scored on another double. And after walking the next batter, Loaisiga passed the ball to Joe Harvey.

Harvey struggled his way out of the 3rd inning, giving up an RBI double, an RBI ground out, and another RBI double before finally striking the final batter out. This gave the Cardinals a rather hefty lead the Yankees never could crack this afternoon. But then Aroldis Chapman sailed his way through the 4th inning, and Danny Coulombe had a fairly easy 5th.

But his 6th found some further trouble for the Yankees. A lead-off walk stole 2nd and ended up at 3rd on a 1-out single. So Coulombe passed the ball to Phillip Diehl, who kept it mostly under control except a 2-out single that scored the lead runner. He gave up a lead-off single in the 7th before getting 2 solid outs and then handing the ball over to Cale Coshow.

Coshow, however, promptly gave up a 2-run home run to push the Cards further ahead. Then in the 8th, he gave up a lead-off ground-rule double that bounced over the center field fence after it split the outfielders, slowed by the sun in their eyes. A wild pitch moved that runner to 3rd where he then scored on a 1-out single. James Reeves came into the game to close out the 8th and then cleanly get through the 9th.

Meanwhile, the Cardinals pitching was much cleaner, and despite getting a few opportunities to make a difference, the Yankees didn’t capitalize on many of them. Torres led-off the 2nd with a double, and Frazier worked a 1-out walk. Austin Romine scored both of them with his solid 3-run home run to give the Yankees a very temporary lead.

Down quite a bit in the bottom of the 9th, the Yankees found themselves with an eleventh hour rally opportunity. With 1 out, Garcia walked, Lipka singled, and a passed ball moved them both into scoring position. They did so on Trey Amburgey’s double. And then they ran out of opportunities.

Final score: 9-5 Cardinals

One to Watch: I decided to highlight Trey Amburgey today. He’s been featured here before, and he earned the spot again today. His 2-RBI double in the 9th cut into the Cardinals lead, but he also made some crucial plays in right field today, including saving a run from scoring in the 6th.

Next up: The Yankees will travel across Tampa Bay to Clearwater tomorrow to play the Phillies. (So, more red in the crowd.)

Go Yankees!

Spring Game 10: ATL vs. NYY — A chilly afternoon victory

The day started out less than promising — cloudy skies dripping a few buckets of rain and a sweeping new cold front planting itself right over the area. But then just before game time, the rain cleared, though the clouds and the chill in the air remained the whole game.

And oddly, the game began on time, and the Yankees and Braves powered through this afternoon in just two and a half hours. Tarpley and Green sailed through the first two innings, setting a solid pace for the Yankees, something picked up by Kahnle, Betances, and Cortes for the latter part of the game.

JA Happ got the bulk of the work today with 3 innings, his only struggle was in the 4th inning. A 1-out single moved to 2nd on a hit-by-pitch and then scored on another single. On a 2-out single, the lead runner tried to score another run for the Braves, but a sharp throw from left fielder Stanton to a waiting Sanchez ended that.

The Braves also had a good outing for their pitchers, with a few hiccups that the Yankees’ offense certainly used to their advantage. In the 5th, they loaded up the bases with walks to Torres and Florial and a single by LeMahieu. Troy Tulowitzki’s sacrifice fly scored Torres to get the Yankees on the board. But it would be Aaron Judge to solidify the Yankees’ win today with a big 3-run home run up the middle.

Estevan Florial led-off the 7th with a single. Two outs later, he stole 2nd base, moved to 3rd on a passed ball, and then raced home to score on a wild pitch for the extra insurance run the Yankees never needed.

Final score: 5-1 Yankees

One to Watch: The honor goes to Yankees prospect Estevan Florial today. He started today’s game in center field and went 1-for-2 with a walk and 2 runs scored. He’s been an interesting player to watch for the last few seasons, and this season is no exception. But the impact he continues to make causes some questions to arise. He’s not ready for “the show” just yet, but there’s that crowded (or rather overcrowded) outfield. Where does Florial fit in such a field? He deserves to be considered, within the next few seasons. But will there ever be room for the young outfielder?

Next up: the Yankees will host the Cardinals tomorrow afternoon. It will at least be slightly warmer (but still cold for Florida) and significantly sunnier.

Some roster news: Aaron Hicks has been out of the lineup for the last couple of days due to a sore back. An MRI cleared him of anything serious, but he will continue to rest so as not to tweak something while it’s vulnerable. (Besides, there’s that crowded outfield with all the players in camp right now to cover for the regular center fielder.)

Luis Severino was supposed to make his Spring debut today, even worked out in preparation all the way up to warm ups just minutes before the game. But his shoulder felt sore and off. As a precaution, they opted to pull the starter, subbing in long-term relievers and extended Happ’s outing today. But they sent Severino for an MRI, which came back with a diagnosis of right shoulder inflammation.

A cortisone injection, anti-inflammatories, and at least 2 weeks off baseball activities was the immediate treatment. He’ll be reevaluated in 2 weeks to see if he’s progressed and can resume throwing. But it seems like Opening Day (March 28) is going to be out of the conversation for the ace starter, and now talk of grabbing another starter is back on the table.

In some better news, retiring starter CC Sabathia will spend 15 of his non-pitching days as a guest commentator on ESPN. Sabathia has been co-hosting a podcast with a local sports broadcaster for the last year, giving fans and listeners an inside look behind the scenes of the athletic life. So this is going to be more of Sabathia conversing with friends and personalities about the game he loves. Plus it’s going to open the conversation of what Sabathia might want to pursue in his post-baseball life come this fall.

Go Yankees!

{Media note: despite the broadcast today, there were few released video highlights. Sorry.}