Spring Game 19: NYY vs. TOR — Once again… another day, another draw

In addition to missing the ready available video highlights (and even being able to watch games I don’t attend in person), I’m starting to miss games where there’s a legitimate winner. And this is saying a lot as someone who also follows professional soccer (where most regular season games can end in a draw) and as someone who repeatedly reminds readers that these Spring games “don’t count” for anything but a big warm-up for the big guys and a month-long audition for the younger ones.

But it’s another beautiful Florida day as the Yankees trekked across Tampa Bay to visit the Blue Jays’ Spring home in Dunedin (about 20 miles or 40 minutes west of Tampa). Luis Cessa was dominant in his 4 innings this afternoon, setting a good pace that was matched mostly by the rest of the Yankee pitchers, but also by the Blue Jays. In fact, Yankee pitchers held off the home team until the 7th inning. Coulombe gave up a 1-out double that moved to 3rd on a ground out and then scored on a single.

So, the Yankees’ offense actually held the lead for most of the game, getting on the board in the 4th. Gleyber Torres led-off with a single and ended up on 3rd on Troy Tulowitzki’s single. Miguel Andujar hit into a ground out, but Torres was able to score the Yankees’ lone run of the day. After the Blue Jays tied things up, neither team was able to crack their opponents’ strong pitching today.

Final score: 1-1 tie

Next up: The Big Game of the Spring — the Yankees will host the Red Sox. Of course, they’ve already played each other to open the Spring, but this time, they’re in Tampa. It’s sure to be a good game as usual and hopefully not another tie.

Some interesting news came out from MLB headquarters. They released some new rules to that will be implemented in 2019 and 2020. Coming this year will include changes to the fan voting for the All-Star Game (a graduated process), how much money the winner of the Home Run Derby makes (from $525,000 to $1,000,000), tightening the pace of play with shorter inning breaks, reduction of mound visits during a game, and trade deadline and waivers.

Next season will see the biggest changes. Rosters will increase to 26 regular players, which will “expand” to 28 in September, effectively eliminating the big “September Call-ups”. Other changes include further clarification of the roster, an increase of minimum days on the Disabled List, and a minimum number of batters a single pitcher must face (save injury or end of inning).

Yes, I have some opinions, but I’ll reserve them until we see them in play on a regular basis to see if they legitimately help improve the game or just hamper with unnecessary regulations. The changes to the All-Star Game and Home Run Derby won’t hit until the summer, but the more immediate changes to increase the pace of play (inning breaks and mound visits) seem more likely to aid the game than hinder it.

We’ll see it all in action shortly. So I’ll save my judgments until then.

And while it’s a beautiful day in Florida, our hearts are with those facing the messy snow storm in the middle of the country. Summer is coming. I promise. Take evidence in the fact that baseball season is already underway, and the “boys of summer” are itching to play in all those outdoor stadiums currently buried under feet of snow and battered by high winds. Stay safe.

Go Yankees!

{Media note: No broadcast, no video to include. It was a slow day for highlights anyway.}

Spring Game 18: PHI vs. NYY — Another night game, another draw

Another great evening under the lights at Steinbrenner Field. A common conversation among Floridians lately on nights like this is the unattainable desire to have this kind of weather year-round. Of course, having a rather entertaining battle under the cool night sky and bright lights helps pass the time in what was a rather long game for Spring Training (3 hours and 36 minutes).

The Yankees got on the board first in the 1st inning. Gardner led-off with a single, stole 2nd, moved to 3rd on Stanton’s single, and then scored on Luke Voit’s single. Later, Sanchez’s 2-out single snapped the Phillies into defensive action and got Stanton trying to score a run and ended the innings. In the 2nd, Bird worked a walk to lead off the inning, moved to 3rd on Urshela’s single, and then scored on Gary Sanchez’s sacrifice fly.

Now, Masahiro Tanaka got the start tonight, throwing into the 4th inning and fending off the visiting Phillies for most of his outing. In fact, his first allowed run was a lead-off solo home run in the 4th. After allowing a single and getting 2 more outs, he handed the ball off to Chad Green. But he promptly gave up a 2-run home run to give the Phillies the lead.

Adam Ottavino came on in the 5th, and in a shift from his previous outings, had a bit of trouble. With 1 out, the recent superstar signee on the Phillies reached on a questionable catcher’s interference. He then stole 2nd, moved to 3rd on a single, and watched the next batter work a walk to load the bases. In a bit of a sticky situation, Ottavino and the Yankees’ defense limited the damage when a single scored just 1 run thanks to an on-point throw by Judge straight to Sanchez to get the second runner out at home.

Now, down by two runs, the Yankees needed to rediscover their lead. Giancarlo Stanton hit a scoreboard-clearing home run to lead-off the 6th inning. With a new pitcher, Voit worked a walk, moved to 2nd on a ground out, and made it to 3rd on a wild pitch. After Sanchez worked a walk, Greg Bird’s single scored Voit and tied up the game. With another pitching change by the Phillies, Urshela hit a short single to load up the bases. Then Tyler Wade worked a great at-bat to walk in Sanchez to score the lead run.

So, the Yankees had to protect their slim lead. Tommy Kahnle continued his strong Spring with a quick, flawless 6th inning, but it was Drew Hutchison that commanded the latter part of the game with 2 strong, scoreless innings.

All that was needed was 3 outs in the 9th inning to close out the game, but minor league reliever Phillip Diehl struggled with his outing. And the coaches wanted to see him get out of his own troubles. He loaded up the bases with 2 singles and a walk with just 1 out. The lead-off runner quickly scored the tying run on a wild pitch, and a walk loaded the bases again. Fortunately for Diehl, the Yankee defense kicked in again and got the next batter out to hit into a play to get the out at home before a fly out ended the inning.

The Yankees ran out of outs, and another Spring game ended in a draw.

Final score: 5-5 tie

One to Watch: I’m going to give today’s honor to pitcher Drew Hutchison for his strong 7th and 8th innings, keeping the Phillies from trying to overcome the Yankees lead at the time. The Yankees picked up Hutchison in January, signing him to a minor league contract with an invite to Spring Training, after he played with the Blue Jays, Pirates, and Rangers in the last six seasons. He’s already assigned to AAA Scranton, so the chances are fairly high that the Yankees might pull him up at some point, even if only for the September call-ups.

Go Yankees!

{Media note: Once again, there was no broadcast tonight, which is a shame becasue there were some noteworthy moments people would want to remember. Sorry, readers. Yet another reason to anticipate the regular season — all the regular video highlights.}

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!