Game 42: NYY vs. KC — Hitting clinic in KC, led by Hicks & #ElGary

While none of the Yankees blamed their less-than-ideal last week (between soggy, halted and postponed games and sleeping in the airport) for their sluggish day yesterday, they certainly were able to bounce back and return to their standard form we’ve grown used to over this season.

The Yankees got off to a great start and kept the ball rolling, so to speak, in this middle game in Kansas City. Aaron Hicks led-off the game with a single and then scored on Gary Sanchez’s 2-out double to kick off the Yankees’ night, the only run they would score not on a home run tonight. Hicks led-off the 3rd with an inside-the-park home run, which could have been a double or triple if the right fielder hadn’t missed the grounder and slammed into the wall out there. Hicks jogged his way home.

In the 4th, Clint Frazier led-off with a walk, Torreyes singled, and they both then scored as part of Gleyber Torres’ 3-run home run. Then in the 7th, Gary Sanchez hit a 1-out solo home run. And they weren’t done yet. In the 9th, with 1 out, Giancarlo Stanton hit a big solo home run into the fountains behind the left-center field seats. Sanchez followed up that with another solo home run of his own, his 2nd of his game, making him the Yankees’ home run leader (at 12 this season).

Meanwhile, Luis Severino got the start and continued his display as the Yankees’ ace, throwing just 77 pitches in 6 innings, giving up 8 hits, 2 walks, and 3 runs, and striking out 6 batters. In fact, most of those allowed hits and walks were indicative of when the Royals would breakthrough and get on the scoreboard. In the 3rd, a lead-off single scored on a double. After that runner moved to 3rd on a sacrifice bunt, he scored on a single to tie up the game at that point.

After Torres’ big homer in the 4th, the Royals made an attempt to comeback in the 5th, with a lead-off walk and single. A routine double play still moved the lead runner to 3rd, who then scored on a single. That runner (who really isn’t that speedy of a baserunner) tried to make it all the way home on a double, but a quick relay (Stanton-Torreyes-Sanchez) got the out at home. Even after a challenge by the home team, the call was upheld.

Actually, all the challenged calls tonight went the Yankees’ way. Chad Green came on in relief for the 7th inning, and with a runner on 2nd and 1 out, the Yankees fielded a grounder at 3rd and threw it to 1st for the out. Well, actually, it was called safe, and the Yankees challenged it. But it was overturned (for obvious reasons, despite what the home crowd seemed to think).

After Betances’ clean, speedy 8th, Aroldis Chapman came on for the 9th. He gave up a lead-off walk. After a good strikeout, that runner attempted to go to 2nd. Sanchez threw to Torres for the tag, and it was called safe. But another challenge led to another overturn (as the runner comes off the bag), despite again what the crowd seems to think.

Final score: 8-3 Yankees

If you noticed, Clint Frazier is finally back in the line-up. He batted 7th as the designated hitter, going 1-for-2 with a double and 2 walks, and scoring on that Torres’ home run in the 4th. A nice welcome back for him after months of dealing with that nasty concussion in Spring Training.

To bring Frazier up to the majors, the Yankees designated pitcher David Hale for assignment last Tuesday. Hale later opted for release rather than outrighting, and the Yankees then re-signed him on Friday and immediately optioned him to AAA Scranton. So expect to see more of Hale in the Bronx soon enough.

And on a final note worth discussion, Aaron Hicks’ inside-the-park home run made him in some great company. Hicks is the first Yankee to hit multiple inside-the-park home runs in a single season (his first one was April 13 in Detroit) since Mickey Mantle hit 3 in 1958. And we’re only 42 games into the season, so Hicks has a chance to make more history.

As really, the whole team does. And with the way they’re going so far, this could be one of those teams that’s not so much compared to other great seasons but rather becomes its own great season to which others are compared.

Go Yankees!

Game 38: OAK vs. NYY — Another disappointing loss and still MLB leaders

Well, that was… disappointing. After such a long win streak, it’s just disappointing (there is no other word, really) to drop 2 games in a row, and that “come from behind” momentum they got used to during their streak wasn’t coming on as strong as it did just last week.

Sonny Gray got the start in the series opener against the visiting Athletics. And his struggles this year seem to continue as he gave the A’s an early lead that sent the Yankees into playing catch-up all game. Gray threw 93 pitches in his 5 innings, gave up 9 hits, 3 walks, and 5 runs, and struck out just 2 Oakland batters.

In the 2nd, he gave up a lead-off solo shot to start the run-scoring. Then after allowing a single, a 2-run home run caused the sold-out crowd to start groaning. But then he got the 3 outs in fairly quick succession. And then it was the 3rd inning, and Gray gave up 3 consecutive singles, the last of which scored a run. Then despite later loading up the bases, he got of that jam with a great defensive fly out. And a double led-off the 4th, moved to 3rd on a single, and then scored on a ground out.

Meanwhile, the Yankees were held off by the Athletics’ starter for most of the game, so they grabbed their offensive opportunities in small doses like Gleyber Torres’ 1-out solo home run in the 3rd. And in the 5th, Andujar reached 1st on a fielding error, Gardner worked a 2-out walk, and then they both scored on Aaron Judge’s 3-run home run into the right field seats to put the Yankees within a single run of the Athletics’ lead.

David Hale came on in relief of Gray in the 6th for 3 inning and had his own struggles, giving up a 2-out solo home run in the 6th and then a 1-out solo homer in the 8th. David Robertson was called on to close out the 9th, but even he had trouble. With 1 out, he loaded up the bases with 2 walks and a failed fielder’s choice so that a double cleared all the bases and eased the A’s into a big victory.

The Yankees had a minor hope for a rally in the 7th inning. With the starter out and a new pitcher on the mound, Andujar and Romine each singled and moved into scoring position on Torres’ sacrifice bunt. After a new reliever came in, Gardner worked a walk in just 4 pitches to load the bases. Then Aaron Judge stepped in, and the Bronx came alive with hope, only to be slightly dimmed due to the reliever ending up walking Judge and thus Andujar in for an easy run. Another new reliever and 2 outs later, the bases were still loaded and the rally stranded and stalled.

Final score: 10-5 Athletics

Last year, June 29 to be exact, the Yankees called up a young prospect Dustin Fowler to make his MLB debut. In the very 1st inning in Chicago, the rookie outfielder slammed against the back wall and ruptured a tendon in his knee that would require surgery, ending his 2017 season. In the process of his recovery, the Yankees orchestrated a trade with today’s opponents, the Athletics, that sent prospects Fowler, Mateo, and Kaprielian to Oakland in exchange for tonight’s pitcher Sonny Gray (and international bonus slot money). Tonight, Fowler finally got an at-bat at Yankee Stadium, or actually 5, in which he also got a hit and a run scored.

Injury updates: Drury, Bird, and McKinney are all in the midst of their rehab assignments and doing quite well. As far as returning, there doesn’t seem to be any rush because despite tonight’s outcome (and yesterday’s), the Yankees are still in 1st place in the AL East and in all of baseball. Sure, they’re sharing the spot with the Red Sox, but 1st is 1st.

Go Yankees!

Game 30: NYY vs. HOU — #SevySharp + Stanton power = a complete shutout

If anyone doesn’t understand why Luis Severino is ace material, clearly they haven’t seen him pitch like he did tonight in Houston. Severino’s Twitter hashtag (at least for me) is #SevySharp because he throws games like this with enough frequency that it warrants attention. He threw 110 pitches in a full 9 shutout innings, giving up 5 hits and a walk, and striking out 10 Houston batters along the way.

Now, don’t get me wrong. The Astros have a really good rotation, something they used strategically through last year’s postseason for their clear advantage. Their starter tonight is easily one of the best pitchers in the AL, if not baseball entirely, but the Yankee batters really let into him tonight, forcing his pitch count high early on. Plus, the Yankees have never hit a home run off their starter.

Until tonight.

And offensively, the Yankees relied on Giancarlo Stanton for some deep power to push them over into the win column tonight. In the 1st, with 2 outs, Gregorius singled and then scored on Stanton’s big 2-run home run into the right field seats. Then Stanton added to the score with a 1-out solo shot into the left field seats in the 4th.

Stanton’s next at-bat was a strikeout in the 6th, the only time tonight he’d not get on base. Then in the 8th, the Astros decided to open their bullpen. Hicks led-off with a double, and after an out, stole 3rd. After a strikeout, it would be Stanton with an RBI double to score Hicks. After Sanchez walked, the Astros called on a new reliever who did better at keeping the Yankees from adding to their lead through the next 4 outs of the game.

Final score: 4-0 Yankees

And if you’re following with math here, that makes Stanton responsible for every single run scored tonight. He actually had the best average tonight — going 3-for-4 with 2 runs scored and those 4 RBIs. That certainly helped his batting average overall this season, which has been hovering in the low .200s, up to .240 by the end of the game. For some comparison, Gregorius (who was just awarded Player of the Month) is batting .330 and Judge is batting .312.

Okay, injury news: Jordan Montgomery will officially be out for 6-8 weeks due to a left elbow flexor strain. That leaves a bit of a hole in the rotation, especially with Cessa still on the DL with his oblique injury and no return set yet. So the Yankees are looking at last night’s long-term reliever to fill the gap, or perhaps he gets a shot at it. Domingo German could really rise to the occasion or at least provide some strong first few innings (he went 4 scoreless last night) and then relying on the bullpen for a strong finish.

To fill this gap, the Yankees re-signed reliever David Hale from AAA Scranton/Wilkes-Barre to rejoin the bullpen. I don’t expect this to be the end of this conversation or roster maneuver as they find a system that works in the meantime.

Also, they moved Jacoby Ellsbury to the 60-day DL due to his left hip soreness, which effectively removes him off the 40-man roster. They needed a spot for Clint Frazier, who was officially reinstated from the 7-day concussion DL today and options to AAA Scranton. While much longer than the “7-days”, Frazier’s rehab is complete, and more importantly, his concussions are behind him. And while the Yankees certainly have a pretty good working outfield right now in Gardner, Hicks, Judge, and Stanton. Frazier is now ready to go if needed.

And following the play at the end of the 8th inning, Tyler Austin was in a bit of pain coming off the field, wincing a bit and clutching his lower right back. But after the game, Austin revealed he jammed his hip a bit on the play, and with some rest tonight, he should be ready to play tomorrow. Those little tweaks and pinches sometimes just come with the game, being an aggressive athlete and all. It’s when they don’t go away that’s the issue.

Final game in Houston is tomorrow afternoon (1:10 pm CST), for that special Thursday matinée due to travel schedules. It works out well for both teams, as the Yankees will head back to the Bronx for their next home stand, and the Astros are headed out to Arizona. But the Yankees are also hoping for a good plane ride on a second series win this road trip. Finger crossed.

Go Yankees!

Game 29: NYY vs. HOU — #ElGary ends pitching duel

This series was never going to be “boring baseball”. At least not for those who understand the game. And tonight’s home pitcher, a veteran the Yankees have faced consistently for years (previously with the Tigers until middle of last year), was just on point for most of the game. He kept the Yankees to just 3 hits for his entire 8 innings and struck out an impressive 14 Yankees along the way. It was ridiculous, really.

But it wasn’t that the Yankees’ pitching staff wasn’t keeping up. It’s just that the Astros’ starter was on a whole other level tonight. Jordan Montgomery got the start for the Yankees and breezed his way through the Astros’ lineup in just 7 pitches in that 1st inning. But then, he didn’t come back for the 2nd. He was done as he was having some tightness in his throwing elbow. That is never a good sign. (More after the recap.)

In his place, the Yankees sent in Domingo German, who really picked up Montgomery’s momentum and powered through the next 4 innings, keeping the Astros from doing anything worth mentioning. Green needed just 9 pitches in the 6th, and Betances got 3 great strikeouts in the 7th to keep the Astros’ scoreless. David Robertson got 2 quick outs, gave up a single (to last year’s MVP), and then got out of the inning.

The Yankee batters just needed the starter out of the game to make a difference. So after 105 pitches, the Astros thought they were safe enough to turn to their bullpen. They weren’t. Judge led-off the 9th with a single and ended up at 3rd on Gregorius’ double. Then with 1 out, Gary Sanchez saw the first pitch and smacked it deep to center field for a 3-run home run to break up the scoreless scoreboard.

Aaron Hicks followed that with a single and the Astros went back to their bullpen. With a new pitcher, Hicks took advantage of their lack of defense at this point. He stole 2nd, moved to 3rd on Andujar’s ground out, and then slid into home on a wild pitch. Chapman came in for the final half of the 9th inning and just powered through with 3 consecutive strikeouts to hand the Yankees the victory.

Final score: 4-0 Yankees

So, Jordan Montgomery will be headed back to New York to be seen by the team’s doctor and hopefully get a better diagnosis before his turn to pitch comes around again (which is later this weekend in the Bronx). Worst case scenario is the beginnings of an injury that could lead to surgery, like Tommy John surgery. Best case would be a small tweak in the elbow and with some rest he’s good to go next weekend. It’s probably somewhere in between, as usual.

Because if he needs to go on the DL and thus miss his next start, the Yankees will need to look at their starters or long-term relievers to potentially fill that role. Immediately, German is clearly putting up a good case for himself after tonight’s performance. The Yankees also have AJ Cole on their 25-man roster. In AAA, they have 3 — Josh Rogers, David Hale (who is back with a new minor league contract after being DFA’d last week), and Chance Adams. (By the way, no way are they reaching down to AA Trenton to grab star prospect Justus Sheffield, despite how good he’s been this season there.)

Okay, 2 games in Houston down, 2 more to go. “Boring baseball”? Yeah, not in Houston this week.

Go Yankees!

Game 22: MIN vs. NYY — #CCStrong, #ElGary, & #SirDidi

The Yankees continue their dominant homestand with tonight’s win over the visiting Twins. It is their 4th straight win, and the Yankees are really starting to click in many ways. Fortunately, their starters (for the most part) are also hitting a good stride too, including tonight’s starter CC Sabathia.

He threw 82 pitches in his 6 innings, giving up just 2 hits, a walk, and an unearned run and struck out 4 batters. In the 1st inning, with 2 outs, he gave up a walk. The next batter technically doubled, but a fielding error allowed the lead runner to score and the other runner to make it to 3rd on the throw. But that would be the only bad inning for Sabathia, who powered through the rest of his outing like the veteran he is.

Dellin Betances’ 7th inning didn’t start off well either. He gave up a lead-off walk who ended up at 2nd on a pick-off error. One out later, that runner scored on a short single and missed catch error. After giving up another walk, the Yankees called in Robertson for a quick 7-pitch 2-out end to the inning. Chasen Shreve’s 8th hit a couple of bumps too — a 1-out double scored on a 2-out double for the Twins’ only truly earned run of the night. Holder finished up the game with a breezy 9th inning.

But those 3 “bumpy” innings were really nothing in comparison to the Yankees’ offense. The Twins’ starter at least spread out the Yankees runs through his outing. In the 2nd, Gary Sanchez hit a 1-out solo home run. With 1 out in the 3rd, Gardner worked a walk, moved to 3rd on Judge’s double, and then scored on Didi Gregorius’ single.

Then in the 4th, again with 1 out, Walker technically struck out but made it safely to 1st on a messy wild pitch. Andujar followed him by making it to base safely on a fielding error. Gleyber Torres earned his first career RBI with a single that scored Walker. And Judge led-off the 5th with a single and then scored as part of Didi Gregorius’ big 2-run home run, his 8th of the season so far.

That would be the end of the Twins’ starter’s night, and the first reliever powered through the rest of the 5th inning, shutting down the Yankees with 3 consecutive strikeouts. That momentum continued through the 6th with a new reliever, but the same reliever had trouble in the 7th. Aaron Judge led-off that inning with a solo home run. Then with 1 out and Stanton on 1st, Gary Sanchez hit another home run tonight, a bit 2-run homer up the middle to cap off the Yankees’ runs tonight.

Final score: 8-3 Yankees

Roster moves: before tonight’s game, the Yankees announced a trade with the Nationals, reliever A.J. Cole to the Yankees for cash considerations. To make room for him on the roster, the Yankees also designated pitcher David Hale for assignment. And the Orioles officially claimed infielder Jace Peterson off waivers after Peterson had been DFA’d last week.

Go Yankees!

Game 21: MIN vs. NYY — #TanakaTime & some Bronx Bombers

The Yankees continue to dominate this home stand. Masahiro Tanaka got the start in the opening game of this week’s 4-game series against the visiting Twins. Tanaka had a stellar outing, throwing 91 pitches into the 7th inning, giving up just 3 hits, 2 walks, and a run, and striking out 5 batters. And once again, the lone run scored in Tanaka’s weakest inning. In the 5th, with 2 outs, a batter was hit by a pitch, moved to 2nd on a single, and then scored on another single.

Chad Green came on to finish Tanaka’s 7th inning. After 2 outs and a walk by Tanaka, Green walked the next batter before getting that 3rd out. David Hale got the final 2 innings of the evening, keeping the Twins to that lone allowed run.

Meanwhile, the Yankee pounced on the Twins’ pitchers early and often. In the 1st, Gardner led-off with a walk and stole 2nd. Two outs later, Stanton worked a walk, and then they both scored on Gary Sanchez’s double. Sanchez then scored on Aaron Hicks’ single to give the Yankees a big early lead. Miguel Andujar added another run to that lead with a lead-off solo home run in the 2nd inning.

The Twins’ starter got a bit roughed up in those first two innings, but got things under control until the 5th inning. With 2 outs, Giancarlo Stanton hit a solo home run deep into the left field bleachers. That would be it for the Twins’ starter (after 106 pitches). His reliever got out of that inning, and kept the Yankees away in the 6th. But after giving up a double to Judge in the 7th, he was replaced. Judge quickly scored on Stanton’s 1-out single, and after Hicks’ 2-out walk, Tyler Austin hit a long double to score both Stanton and Hicks.

But the Yankees weren’t done yet, and the 8th inning reliever was clearly having a bad day. Gleyber Torres led-off with his first major league hit, a single up the middle. The bases were quickly loaded with walks to Gardner and Judge. And Didi Gregorius smacked a huge grand slam to push the Yankees into double-digit scoring. After Stanton singled and then was forced out on Sanchez’s grounder, the Twins decided they had enough.

So they called on their center fielder to pitch. Yes, they had a position player pitch. (Are they saving their bullpen for the rest of the series?) He got his first batter (Hicks) to pop up and get a fairly easy out at 2nd (Sanchez). Tyler Austin saw the first pitch and smacked it into the visitor’s bullpen for a 2-run home run before a grounder ended the inning. (By the way, the position player pitcher only threw 5 pitches to get out of the inning, in contrast to the actual reliever who threw 29 to get a single out.)

Final score: 14-1 Yankees

This year is the 20th anniversary of the perfect game thrown by former Yankees’ starter David Wells. (The actual anniversary will be May 17.) In honor of this event, Wells threw out the 1st pitch (and it’s clearly been 20 years) and the stadium gave away commemorative David Wells bobbleheads. It’s worth noting that a certain young New Yorker was seated with the Bleacher Creatures to personally witness the game. Saving his $7 ticket stub, that young man eventually became a Yankees All-Star reliever — Dellin Betances.

Trivia bits: Jorge Posada was the catcher for David Wells perfect game, the opposing team were the Minnesota Twins, future Hall of Famer Paul Molitor was the Twins’ DH, Bernie Williams went 3-for-3 with 3 runs scored and a solo homer in the 4th (1 of 4 runs scored that day), Wells threw a total of 120 pitches (79 strikes and 41 balls) and got 11 strikeouts, and it was “Beanie Baby Day” at the stadium (because it was 1998).

Go Yankees!

Game 20: TOR vs. NYY — A strong series win, #SevySharp, & a big call-up

Today was a beautiful Spring day in the Bronx, a great day for Sunday afternoon baseball as the Yankees were looking at winning their first regular series (read: not those 2-game micro-series) this season. And the Blue Jays were hoping for a split to boost their big start this April. It could only fall one way, and the Yankees were just in command from the start.

That was mostly due to the outstanding outing by Luis Severino. He threw 112 pitches in his 7 innings, but gave up just 3 hits, 2 walks, and a run, and struck out 6 Blue Jay batters. In fact, that lone run didn’t happen until the 6th inning, a 1-out solo shot to get the Jays on the board. Robertson continued the dominance through the 8th, and Chapman got into a spot of trouble with a couple walks in the 9th, but he got out of it like he does, keeping the Blue Jays to that lone run.

Meanwhile, the Yankees gave Severino a bit of leeway that he wouldn’t need. Didi Gregorius hit a 2-out solo home run in the 1st inning to start their offense. In the 2nd, Sanchez led-off with a walk and moved to 3rd on Andujar’s 1-out double. They both then scored on Austin Romine’s double. And after the Blue Jays got on the board, the Yankees answered back in the bottom of the 6th. With 1 out, Sanchez doubled and moved to 3rd on Tyler Austin’s single.

After the Jays went to their bullpen for a reliever, Miguel Andujar’s double scored Sanchez. (By the way, Andujar went 4-for-4 with an RBI and run scored today, and is currently batting .308. So much for your average bench player.) And in the 7th, Hicks led-off with a single, stole 2nd and ended up at 3rd on a throwing error, and then scored on Gregorius’ sacrifice fly.

Final score: 5-1 Yankees, Yankees win series 3-1

Next up: the Yankees host the Twins for a 4-game midweek series, starting Monday. This will end with that rare Thursday matinée, as the Yankees will be hopping a plane for Los Angeles to face the Angels. (Yes, West Coast Week starts early this year, so prepare now.)

Roster moves (Scranton Shuttle Alert!): before today’s game, the Yankees designated Jace Peterson for assignment and optioned Tyler Wade to AAA Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. In the process, they signed reliever David Hale from AAA Scranton and recalled infield prospect Gleyber Torres from AAA Scranton.

There were two things that Yankee Universe talked about for this game today. First, the Yankees called up prospect Gleyber Torres for his first major league game. Despite playing mostly shortstop (and a little 3rd base) in Scranton, he actually started at 2nd base and batted 8th in the lineup. However, today, he went 0-for-4 at the plate, so he’s still waiting for that 1st big hit.

Torres is only 21 years old, and this prompted a brief conversation about how old the Yankees are this season. In today’s starting roster, there was no one over 30. In fact, catcher Austin Romine was the oldest starter at 29 years and 151 days. A huge shift from recent years where the Yankees were often the oldest team in the MLB, due to its plethora of veterans including Jeter, Rodriguez, Ichiro, Kuroda, Soriano, Teixeira, and Sabathia (who is currently the oldest active Yankee at age 37).

But the thing most people will talk about regarding this game is the replay in the 8th. So here’s what happened — with 1 out, Tyler Austin hit a short grounder to the short stop who fired it to the 1st baseman for the out. But it seemed that the 1st baseman was pulled off by a slightly off throw, so the Yankees challenged the call. Everyone, and I do mean everyone, thought this would be overturned quickly because he clearly caught the ball off the base and never got back for the tag.

Unfortunately, MLB HQ upheld the call. And everyone, and I do mean everyone, disagreed with that call. Yankees’ Twitter-verse was not happy about that. And I don’t blame them. That human factor ekes into the smallest crevices sometimes and just messes up “foolproof” technology. Talk to any NFL fan about their replay experiences to commiserate. Today’s was about as bad.

To be fair, the Yankees (thanks to Special Assistant Brett Weber) have been extremely successful in their replay challenged, constantly rating among the highest in MLB. So, let’s just consider today a fluke. Hopefully.

Go Yankees!