Home Run Derby 2018 — Hometown Heroics at Workout Day

At the end of the first half of the season, the leading players in home runs were dominantly in the American League, but many opted out of the special event tonight either in favor of the rest that comes with the All-Star Break or to focus on the big exhibition game tomorrow night.

Instead, 43,698 fans crowded into Nationals Park in anticipation of seeing the star slugger they see at every home game hit his way into victory. Nationals’ outfielder Harper was the only veteran of the Home Run Derby, having lost in the final round in 2013 to Cespedes. The seven other batters in tonight’s event were news and all but one from National League teams.

The All-Star players had their Workout Day earlier in the day, running drills, seeing where they land on the roster, connecting with former teammates and friends, meeting the media and fans, and then congregating for the Home Run Derby. The Derby is set-up like in a bracket system, where the player with the highest number of home runs (Seed #1) faces off against the player with the fewest homers (Seed #8) and other similar pairings for the first round for four pairings, a sort of “homer-off”, in just 4 minutes.

The player with the most homers of the pair advance to the next round. So, the winners of that first round meet up with another winner for two more pairings for another round of “homer-off”. And the 2 winners of those pairings meet in the final round to see who hits the most homers in just 4 minutes. An extra 30 seconds is awarded if the batter hits 2+ homers at least 440 feet.

The first round kept close for the most part, with a strong start by the first pairing. The Phillies’ Hoskins kicked off the evening with 17 home runs that beat his opponent, Aguilar (Brewers), who hit just 12 despite being the furthest apart in regular season homers. Then it was close — Schwarber (Cubs) beat Bregman (Astros) 16-15, Muncy (Dodgers) over Baez (Cubs) 17-16, and Harper (Nationals) over Freeman (Braves) 13-12.

The next round continued the trend, with Schwarber powering 21 runs, edging out Hoskins (20). Muncy had a good start but faltered in the end to be surpassed by Harper (13-12). For the final round, Schwarber again kicked things off with a big show at 18 runs, and despite some momentum loss, Harper came back and tied it up at 18 in the final second. But he had those 30 extra seconds due to some pretty monster homers. He just needed 1, and he got it. And the hometown crowd went crazy, waving giant Harper faces and making the stadium nearly shake.

{Media note: Still waiting on a recap video of the Derby, will add shortly.}

And if you’re wondering, at the All-Star Futures Game, Team USA out-powered Team World 10-6 yesterday, though each team got 4 solid home runs in the process. Yankees prospect pitcher Justus Sheffield got time on the mound and really had a less-than-ideal outing. Pitching for Team USA, Sheffield came out in the 2nd and promptly gave up a solo home run to allow Team World on the board. After allowing a 1-out single in the 3rd, they went to another pitcher, but that runner scored on a 2-run home run that gave Sheffield a second earned run. But in the end, it was Team USA to power through and come out victorious.

Tomorrow, the All-Stars(often with their families) will walk down the eed carpet to meet their fans, chat with media, and take pictures just outside Nationals Park for the annual Red Carpet Parade before they take batting practice inside the park before the big game. Torres and Chapman will not be playing due to injuries. Severino is slotted as a reserves pitcher, which means he’ll pitch an inning somewhere in the middle of the game. And upon revealing the starting rosters, the AL coaching team has Judge batting 6th and playing left field. Because clearly they’ve never seen the right fielder and the Yankees’ #2 hitter play baseball.

Can’t wait to see Judge and Severino in the game tomorrow night!

Go Yankees!

Game 84: ATL vs. NYY — #CCStrong + 3 homers = #HappyIndependenceDay

America is celebrating its birthday today, and the sold-out crowd at Yankee Stadium (and at stadiums all over this country) did so in the most American way — watching a great baseball game with family and friends. Another strong game by the Yankees helped conclude this series against the Braves and this final home stand before the All-Star Break.

CC Sabathia threw 103 pitches in his 6 strong innings, giving up 5 hits, 3 walks, and 2 runs and striking out 5 Atlanta batters along the way to earning his 6th win. In fact, Sabathia held the Braves scoreless through most of the game. In the 5th, with 1 out and runners on the corners, a ground out scored the Braves’ first run. And a 2-out solo home run in the 6th scored the other. Green, Betances, and Holder closed out the final third of the game and kept the Braves to those 2 runs.

The Yankee batters felt at liberty (pun intended) to show off why they’re one of the most talked about teams in baseball right now (at least in the positive way). In the 2nd, Gregorius hit a 1-out double and scored on Greg Bird’s 2-out single to kick things off. Walker led-off the 3rd with a single, and Hicks worked a 2-out walk. They both then scored on Giancarlo Stanton’s big 3-run home run.

Kyle Higashioka continued to make a splash with his 3rd MLB hit becoming his 3rd home run, a 4th inning 2-out solo shot into (where else with him?) the left field seats. And in the 7th, with 1 out, Aaron Judge capped off Yankee scoring with a 1-out solo home run, his 24th on the season.

Final score: 6-2 Yankees, Yankees win series 2-1 (and the home stand 4-2)

Next up: after an off-day/travel day tomorrow, the Yankees will play a 3-game weekend series against the Blue Jays before heading down to Baltimore. There, they begin with a doubleheader, the first game a make-up from a rain out in May. After 4 games, they travel to Cleveland for a 4-game weekend series against the Indians before the All-Star Break. (Did you vote for your favorites yet? Time’s up tomorrow at midnight.)

And there has been some discussion about Gleyber Torres. Torres recently confided that his right hip flexor has bothered him for some time and just “lived with it”. He was noticeably absent from Tuesday’s game after feeling hurt following Monday’s game. Then, after being pulled from today’s game in the 4th inning and taking time for extra warm-up stretches, as a precaution (and in case it’s something worse), the Yankees will send him for an MRI. Fingers crossed it’s just a little overuse that a couple of days rest will heal.

Finally, the Yankees honor two legendary figures in their Universe born today — former owner George Steinbrenner would have been 88 today, and long-time radio broadcaster John Sterling celebrated his 80th birthday. His former partner and current YES Network broadcaster (and friend) Michael Kay honored him in a very John Sterling kind of way, with a special “home run call”. Happy birthday to them and to America today!

Go Yankees!

Game 83: ATL vs. NYY — Loading up the runs early help Yankees win

Domingo German got the start for the Yankees’ middle game against the visiting Braves, threw 82 pitches into the 5th inning, gave up 6 hits, 3 walks, and 3 runs, and struck out 6 Atlanta batters. And actually, most of those offensive feats by the Braves didn’t happen until the 5th inning when German gave up a lead-off walk. Then 1 out later, a 2-run home run, a solo home run, and 2 singles.

Cole came in to load up the bases and get out of that jam with 2 solid strikeouts before breezing his way through the 6th inning. Adam Warren’s 7th inning was the exact opposite. With 1 out and a runner on 1st, he gave up a long 2-run home run. Giancarlo Stanton gave it his all and really tried hard to make that catch, but he dented the right field wall instead. No concussion, just a dent.

Warren got the first out of the 8th before Shreve finished off the rest of the inning with relative ease (and just 8 pitches). Chapman joined the fun with a quick 14-pitch 9th inning (8 of those were over 100 mph).

But the Yankees got on the board first. In the 1st, with 2 outs, Stanton singled and then scored with Aaron Hicks’ 2-run home run. Then with 2 outs in the 2nd, Kyle Higashioka got in on the fun with a solo home run into left field (his sweet spot, apparently).

In the 3rd, the Yankees loaded the bases with walks to Judge, Hicks, and Andujar. So with 2 outs, Brandon Drury worked another walk and forced in Judge. The Braves opted to end their starter’s night right there, but their reliever promptly gave up a walk to Higashioka to score Hicks.

Brett Gardner led-off the 4th with a double, moved to 3rd on Judge’s single, and 2 outs later, scored on a wild pitch. And later, in the 8th, with 2 outs and Judge on 2nd, Giancarlo Stanton’s big 2-run home run. Not a bad way to bounce back after denting the back wall in the 7th.

Final score: 8-5 Yankees

Last few days to vote for the All-Star Game starters… go vote!

Go Yankees!

Game 82: ATL vs. NYY — 11th inning oopsie

The Yankees had a ridiculous amount of opportunities to make the difference of the game, pretty consistently throughout, and yet didn’t do much along the lines of the Yankees’ offense this past weekend. They ended up leaving 12 runners in scoring position in the game, mostly in the latter half.

Jonathan Loaisiga got the start in tonight’s opener against the Braves, throwing 92 pitches in just 4 innings, giving up 5 hits and 3 runs, and striking out just 3 Atlanta batters. The lead-off batter in the 3rd hit a solo shot to get the Braves on the board. Then in the 4th, with 1 out, Loaisiga gave up 3 consecutive doubles that scored 2 more runs for Atlanta.

The Yankees actually got on the board first with Aaron Judge’s 1-out solo home run in the 1st. Then Gleyber Torres led-off the 3rd with a double, advanced to 3rd on a wild pitch, and then scored on another wild pitch. In the 5th, with 1 out, the Yankees began putting runners in scoring position by loading the bases with Torres’ single and 2 walks to Gardner and Judge. Didi Gregorius’ sacrifice fly scored Torres (and tie up the game), but a pop-up out ended that opportunity.

So, after Loaisiga’s night ended, the Yankees got 2 innings each out of both Holder and Green. And Aroldis Chapman’s 9th inning was just amazing, 10 of his 18 pitches were over 100 mph (2 were 104 mph). But with the game tied, the extra innings became inevitable. Betances allowed 2 baserunners and still got out of the 10th inning unscathed.

But then in the 11th, David Robertson got his chance and would have succeeded except for some defensive issues. The lead-off batter made it safely to 1st on a fielding error, but then he was out on a ground out that failed to convert to a double play. The next batter hit a long fly ball to right-center field and Judge didn’t jump in time to grab the ball. It bounced in his glove and then on the top of the back wall for a 2-run home run.

Final score: 5-3 Braves, in 11 innings

Scranton Shuttle (roster moves): Following the game, and the depleted bullpen, the Yankees sent Jonathan Loaisiga to AAA, and reactivated AJ Cole after a brief rehab stint. The Yankees have a doubleheader next Monday in Baltimore, which means they can carry a 26th man on their roster. Logically then, Loaisiga will be back for those games.

In fun Yankee Universe News: the Yankees just signed Luis Severino’s 19-year-old brother Rafael, as part of the international signing period. The younger Severino is part of an academy in their native Dominican Republic and has a pitching arm that regularly throws in the upper 80s. The elder brother is super excited and brags on his younger sibling’s work ethic and potential. Two Severinos with the Yankees? Yes, please!

These are the final days for the All-Star Game voting on the starters for the game. So it’s time now to get your final votes in and have your voice heard. Fans have until July 5 (Thursday) at 11:59 pm EST to vote for their favorites. The All-Star Game is Tuesday, July 17. And it looks like Aaron Judge is one of the front-runners to start in the outfield, and the chances for Severino or perhaps one of the outstanding relievers for other representation in D.C.

Go Yankees!

Spring Game 32: NYY vs. ATL — Chilly, soggy Monday in “The Big Peach”

What a change moving Spring Training north 474 miles (about 7 hours) to Atlanta. And yes, “the Big Peach” is one of those random nicknames for the city. My apologies to the family and friends who reside there for such an awful nickname. But then again, I grew up in “the Big Guava“. Let’s just stop naming things after fruit. New York barely tolerates that; it’s not worth copying.

Anyway, along the drive to the city more commonly known (and rather ironic tonight) as “Hot-lanta”, the temperature dropped nearly 40-degrees, with first pitch tonight coming in on the thermostat at 47° F at SunTrust Park. The newest professional stadium in the MLB stable (opening just last year) hosted about half its capacity for the diehard fans willing to brave the cold and the eventual rain that plagued tonight’s match-up between the hometown Braves and the Yankees. But the faithful were treated to a pretty good game.

Sonny Gray got the start tonight, throwing 60 pitches in his 5 innings, giving up just 3 hits and a run and striking out 7 batters. His lone allowed run came in the 4th when a lead-off double moved to 3rd on a ground out and then scored on another one. Other than that, the Yankee pitchers held off the Braves’ battery for most of the game, with the bullpen showing off their fresh arms and breezing through most of Atlanta’s lineup — Kudos to Betances, Robertson, Holder, Heller, and Chapman who dominated tonight’s game and helped contribute to the impressive total of 14 strikeouts.

Meanwhile, the Yankees found moments in the Braves’ starter’s night to take advantage of. With 2 outs in the 1st, Stanton worked a walk and then scored as part of Didi Gregorius’ 2-run home run to get the Yankees on the board early. In the 3rd, Judge worked a 1-out walk and then scored with Giancarlo Stanton’s 2-run big home run to the 2nd deck in left field to double the Yankees’ lead.

The Braves’ starter came out of the game after struggling through his 3 innings, but the bullpen was much sharper, fending off the Yankees for much of the game at that point. Until the 8th inning. Trey Amburgey made it safely to 1st on a missed catch error and booked it to 2nd on a wild pitch. He then scored on Shane Robinson’s 2-out double to cap off the Yankees’ scoring with an unearned run.

Final score: 5-1 Yankees

This means that the Yankees finish the Spring 18-13-1 (or .581 season average). And I will be posting my reflections, the final standings, and a recap of Spring 2018 tomorrow. So check back for more.

Injury update: after seeing a foot specialist today, the Yankees announced that Greg Bird will undergo surgery tomorrow morning to remove a bone spur that has broken off outside his ankle. If you think that sounds painful, you’re right and it’s why he’s not been playing these last few games. He will need about 6-8 weeks of recovery following the surgery, thus starting another season on the DL. But the depth chart is stacked this year with the likes of Walker, Wade, Drury, Austin, and even Romine to cover while Bird gets healthy again.

Okay, first official 2018 game is this Thursday afternoon (3:37 PM EST). The Yankees kick off the season with a 4-game series in Toronto.

Go Yankees!

Spring Games 29 & 30: NYY vs. ATL & TOR vs. NYY — Double the win, double the fun

Okay, it was a busy day for the Yankees playing split squad games and dealing with a mix of changes and potential alterations to the lineup. A portion of the Yankees traveled over to face the Braves in Kissimmee (on Disney World property), and another portion stayed in Tampa to face off against the visiting the Blue Jays. They will play both teams later next week — the Braves in a final exhibition game in Atlanta on Monday night and the opening series in Toronto next weekend.

Game 1: Yankees at Braves
This game was oddly routine for most of the game this afternoon. Luis Severino got the start and gave up 2 hits, 2 walks, and 2 runs in his 5 innings, striking out 7 batters along the way. Oddly, all of his allowed hits, walks, and runs came in just the 4th inning. He gave up a single that scored on a big 2-run home run to get the Braves on the board. He then gave up 2 walks but then buckled down and got 2 strikeouts and a ground out to get out of the inning.

Chad Green had a great 6th inning, but then gave up a single in the 7th before the Yankees handed the ball to Adam Warren. A sacrifice bunt moved that runner to 2nd and later a 2-out single scored that runner, charged to Green. Warren came out for the first out of the 8th before handing things over to Ben Heller for a flawless 2 strikeouts. Cody Carroll then flew through the 9th inning. Overall, the Yankee pitchers collected an impressive 14 total strikeouts.

The Braves actually kept the score pretty tight and in their favor for most of the game. The Yankees got on the board first in the 4th, with Aaron Hicks’ lead-off solo home run and Ryan McBroom’s 1-out solo shot. After the Braves tied up the game and then took the lead by the top of the 7th, the Yankees didn’t get their next option until the 9th inning. And boy did they pounce. McBroom led-off with a walk, moved to 2nd on Aguilar’s single, and then scored on Gleyber Torres’ 2-out single to tie up the game.

Then Billy McKinney’s single then scored Aguilar to put the Yankee ahead, and a wild pitch moved runners to scoring position. Shane Robinson’s single scored Torres, and the Braves called for a new reliever to find that elusive 3rd out. But then Hendrix worked a walk to load the bases, and Francisco Diaz followed that up with a walk of his own to scored yet another run. Back to the top of the inning’s order, McBroom then hit a long single and 2 runners scored thanks in part to a throwing error.

Final score: 8-3 Yankees

Game 2: Blue Jays at Yankees
Meanwhile, back in Tampa, the game was anything but usual, with both teams going back and forth for much of the game. David Hale got the start with mixed results in his 3 innings. He gave up a 1-out single and a 2-out 2-run homer right in the 1st inning. In the 3rd, a lead-off single moved to 2nd on a ground out and then scored on a 2-out single.

The Yankee batters kept the score close though. In the 1st, with 2 outs, Stanton worked a walk and then scored as part of Didi Gregorius’ 2-run home run to tie up the game. In the 4th, Miguel Andujar worked a walk, stole 2nd, and then scored on Austin Romine’s long 2-out double that bounced off the center field wall (just inches from the top off the wall to be a home run).

Judge hit a 1-out single in the 5th and then scored with Giancarlo Stanton’s monster 2-run home run that dented the Pepsi sign on the top left of the big scoreboard in left field. In the 6th, they loaded up the bases with singles by Andujar and Florial and a walk to Romine. With 1 out, Brett Gardner hit a long sacrifice fly and scored Andujar. Then Rashad Crawford hit a solid double to scored Florial. That gave the Yankees a nice lead.

Giovanny Gallegos threw a strong 2 innings, before handing the ball to JP Feyereisen in the 6th. Feyereisen had a fairly strong 6th, despite giving up a 1-out solo shot. But the lead-off batter in the 7th hit a sharp comebacker that smacked Feyereisen’s hand. He was flexing it, and they let him continue. But he struggled with control (an oddity for the young prospect) for the rest of the inning — giving up a ground-rule double, a 2-RBI single, a double play, and a walk.

Young reliever Josh Rogers came on to finish off the 7th for Feyereisen and closed out that inning scoreless before plowing through the next 2 innings and keeping the Blue Jays from adding to their score and chipping away at the Yankees’ lead.

Oddly paralleling the other game, the Yankees had a rather big offensive inning at home. This one in the bottom of the 7th. They loaded up the bases with a single, an error, and a walk. Estevan Florial worked a walk to score a run before Erik Kratz powered a big bases-clearing, 3-run double. One out later, Zack Zehner hit a big 2-run home run off the black screen above center field. Despite loading up the bases and a pitching change, the Yankees weren’t able to add more to their score.

But they really didn’t need it.

Final score: 13-6 Yankees

Ones to Watch: for the final Spring Training nominees, we’ve got outfielder Rashad Crawford and pitcher Josh Rogers. Crawford is consistent in his defense, for a second Spring in a row, and his outstanding offense today (2 hits in 2 at-bats, 1 RBI) helped the Yankees power through toward victory. And the dominance of Rogers’ pitching helped keep the Blue Jays away, throwing 7 solid outs and earning the save in today’s game. Both young players (ages 24 and 23, respectively) are certainly worth keeping an eye on, with a call to the Bronx sometime in the near future.

Next up: the Yankees play their final Florida-based Spring Training game tomorrow afternoon in Port Charlotte against the Rays. It’s almost over, everyone. Opening Day is right around the corner.

Injury: Brandon Drury is nursing a bruised elbow, buying an elbow pad to be worn for all future at-bats, and being grateful there wasn’t something more serious that would deter him from playing in the opening series next week. And Greg Bird was scheduled to start the game against the Braves, but during batting practice, Bird felt a soreness in his foot. And what complicates things is that it’s the same area that troubled him for most of last season that hampered his play time. They are sending him to further testing, while crossing fingers and hoping for the best. The small advantage is the ridiculous depth the Yankees do have now — Tyler Austin, Neil Walker, and even Austin Romine can all play 1st if necessary.

Roster: before today’s games, the Yankees sent Domingo German down to AAA Scranton, effectively making Jonathan Holder the extra reliever the Yankees hope to carry into the season. More roster moves are expected this weekend before the Yankees leave for Atlanta, but most of the spots are now pretty set. And that alone should give everyone some really big hope for this season. They’re really good. Their back-ups are really good. This whole team could be something to watch this season.

Go Yankees!

{Media note: limited media available for the home game against the Blue Jays. It was amazing, so I’m sorry you won’t get to see it.}

Spring Game 14: NYY vs. ATL — Strong start, just not enough hitting

It was a beautiful, clear evening under the lights at the Disney World sports complex, the Spring home of the Braves (for the last season), a crisp 72° at first pitch just before the sun sank in the horizon. In other words, a great night for some baseball. The result, however, held mixed results.

Sonny Gray got a great start tonight, throwing into the 4th inning, holding the Braves scoreless, only allowing 1 hit, and striking out 3 Atlanta batters. Tommy Kahnle got the final out of the 4th but had some trouble in the 5th. He gave up a lead-off walk that scored on a long double before getting the inning’s first out. Chasen Shreve came on for the final 2 outs of the 5th and the first one in the 6th.

Minor league reliever David Hale came on to finish off the 6th before he got into a situation in the 7th. A lead-off single moved to 2nd on a 2-out single. They both then scored on a big double to right field. The Braves were aided by 2 pretty messy errors out there — a missed catch error and then a throwing error by the young fielder. Jonathan Holder breezed through the 8th inning to keep the Braves from adding to their partially unearned score and give the Yankees a chance.

However, the Yankees’ lone offensive breakthrough came only in the top of the 6th with Gary Sanchez’s lead-off solo home run. The Yankees’ batters racked up a grand total of 3 hits and 5 walks. In other words, they just weren’t hitting well tonight.

Can we blame “The Mouse” or that it’s a late Friday game? Nah. It’s just Spring. It’s when things like this get worked out, and they figure out what needs to be strengthened and who’s not quite ready for “The Show”. It happens.

Final score: 3-1 Braves

The first round of cuts from big league camp happened in the last 24 hours. Yesterday, the Yankees reassigned 5 pitchers and one catcher to minor league camp — Cale Coshow, Raynel Espinal, Trevor Lane, Justus Sheffield, Dillon Tate, and (catcher) Chace Numata. Then earlier today, the Yankees announced they were optioning pitchers Albert Abreu and Jonathan Loaisiga to Single-A Tampa and infielder Thairo Estrada to AA Trenton. (Estrada, as you may remember, is still recovering from a gunshot wound incurred during a robbery attempt in his Venezuelan hometown this off-season.)

This is my standard disclaimer for this time of year: this is a good thing for these players. They won’t be making the starting MLB roster, so they are best served fine-tuning their skills with their teammates this season and focusing on their continued work to hopefully lead up to their futures in the Bronx some day soon.

Next up: the Yankees host their regular season crosstown rivals tomorrow afternoon. The Mets return the visit (from Wednesday’s game) as the crowd of New York fans cheer on their New York team. It’s always a special game, and yes, New York always wins. Previously scratched due to a sore neck, Luis Cessa gets his shot Saturday and will start against one of the Mets’ star starters (formerly affectionately dubbed “The Dark Knight”, for long-term fans), looking to have a way better year than a pretty awful personal one last year.

Also, a happy birthday to the Yankees’ new manager, Aaron Boone, who turned 45 today. Hope this year is full of moments like that special game almost 15 year ago…

Go Yankees!