Spring Game 27: NYY vs. STL — A week left of Spring, saying farewell to a friend

The Yankees finish their South Florida road trip on a sour note. Neither games ended in the Yankees’ favor. But as they head back to Tampa, there are just a handful of games left before the regular season that could right the Yankees’ rather impressive Spring this year.

Domingo German got the start against the Cardinals this afternoon and just stumbled his way into the 4th inning, starting with a lead-off solo homer in the 1st inning. A single in the 2nd, stole 2nd, moved to 3rd on a grounder, and then scored on an RBI single. Then with 2 outs, a 2-run home run secured the Cards early lead. And a 1-out solo shot in the 3rd sealed their eventual win.

Yankees’ reliever Brothers came in to close out the 4th for German, getting him out of trouble. And Stephen Tarpley’s 5th was flawless. But James Reeves had a sticky time in the 6th inning. He gave up a lead-off walk, pick-off error, and a 1-out hit-by-pitch. Then consecutive singles scored both runners, and a walk loaded up the bases.

Cale Coshow came on and just set things right with 2 strong strikeouts to close out the 6th. But he then had a bad 7th inning. Back-to-back doubles scored another run, and a single put runners on the corners. A sacrifice fly scored yet another run, and a double moved runners to scoring position so they both could score on another double. Reliever Diehl closed out the inning strong and carried that momentum through the 8th.

The Yankees struggled on the offense side too, having some trouble against the Cardinals’ pitchers. In the 3rd, Lavarnway and Lipka worked consecutive walks and then scored on Gleyber Torres’ 1-out double. Urshela led-off the 4th, moved to 3rd on a ground out, and then scored on Ryan Lavarnway’s single. And despite getting some opportunities, like in the 7th, the Yankees didn’t ever do much more to add to their score today.

Final score: 11-3 Cardinals

Next up: The Yankees head home for a Friday night game against the Phillies. There’s only 2 more home games (and 2 away games) left in the Spring season before next Thursday’s home opener in the Bronx. Yes, that’s right, only 1 week until the regular season begins.

Roster moves: after today’s game, the Yankees reassigned outfielder Billy Burns and Matt Lipka and catcher Ryan Lavarnway to minor league camp. Earlier this week, the Yankees optioned Kyle Higashioka to AAA Scranton. Higashioka will still appear in Spring games, but he will not be on the 25-man roster, though completely ready to jump up should something happen to Sanchez or Romine.

And in bittersweet news: Ichiro Suzuki is officially hanging up his cleats today. He signed with the Mariners this off-season, and in a fun twist, the Mariners and Athletics opened their regular season in a special series in Tokyo. Ichiro played in today’s game, a 12-inning marathon ending in a 5-4 Mariners’ win, and exited in the 8th to thunderous applause to his hometown crowd. It was emotional for everyone, especially the iconic 45-year-old legend. Everyone has a story about their friend and teammate, and everyone wishes him well.

While he’s worn a few different uniforms over the years, to Yankee fans, he’ll always be a Yankee. Next stop: Cooperstown.

Go Yankees!

Spring Game 26: NYY vs. HOU — Rainy start slows the Yankees’ win streak

The Yankees are an extended tour of south Florida for a few games this last week of Spring Training. First, they visited the Astros in West Palm Beach, and despite another rather rainy day that delayed today’s game 16 minutes, the game played on.

Gleyber Torres kicked off the game with a double and moved to 3rd on a fly out. Bird was hit by a pitch to put runners on the corners, and Gary Sanchez hit a 2-out double to score just Torres. But with runners in scoring position, a strikeout ended the Yankees early shot to get a good lead.

Jonathan Holder got the start and threw a rather strong 2 innings before handing things over to Nestor Cortes for the next 3 innings. The Astros didn’t find their opportunity until the 5th inning. With 1 out, consecutive singles put runners on the corners. A line drive out to 3rd and throwing error allowed 1 run to tie up the game.

Reliever Joe Harvey got 2 quick outs but then gave up a solo home run to give the Astros the lead. But then he sailed through the 7th inning, and Brothers closed out the 8th, getting out cleanly despite giving up 3 walks to load up the bases.

The Yankees had a few opportunities in the game but never got enough to regain their lead.

Final score: 2-1 Astros

Next up: The Yankees travel about 30 minutes north from today’s field to visit the Cardinals in Jupiter.

The Yankees announced today that they have signed veteran left-handed pitcher Gio Gonzalez to a minor league deal with an invite to Spring Training. He is a 2-time All-Star, formerly with the Athletics, Nationals, and Brewers over the last 11 years. And his signing with the Yankees after declaring his intent at free agency this last off-season was a “no-brainer” for him.

He will need some extended Spring Training due to his late start, having just worked out with students around his hometown in South Florida. But his presence on the team could come into play with injuries to starters Sabathia and Severino and even to reliever Betances. His contract includes an opt-out clause if he is not promoted to the major leagues by April 20. But I’m guessing we’ll see the new Yankee in pinstripes before then.

Go Yankees!

Spring Games 22 & 23: NYY vs. BAL & NYY vs. PHI — Double away victories, perhaps with some good luck

I don’t often look at the standings during Spring Training (or early in the regular season) because it never gives you an accurate picture of what the real season will look like. But I happened to see them today in passing. The Yankees are currently sitting atop the Grapefruit League standings, 1.5 games ahead of the Nationals. It’s worth noting the Yankees are also well in the lead over the Cactus League.

But as we’ve said in previous years, the standings in Spring mean nothing. It’s a very long season, and there’s far too many variables (like injuries, trades, hit streaks, and dry spells) that affect where teams land for October baseball. So, Yankee fans, feel happy about today but cautiously optimistic about 7 months from now.

The Yankees played another split squad day, but this time was unique as both squads played in away games. One group traveled about an hour south to Sarasota to visit the Orioles, and the other about 20 minutes west to Clearwater to see the Phillies. And both teams got a little “lucky” on this cloudy Sunday holiday.

Game 1: Yankees at Orioles
Jonathan Loaisiga got the start for the Yankees here and helped set a solid, strong pattern that would earn him the eventual win for the afternoon with 3 great scoreless innings. David Hale continued his momentum in his 3 innings, only allowing the Orioles on the board in his final inning.

So, in the 6th, with 1 out and a runner on 1st, a double moved the runner to 3rd to score on an easy ground out. Yankees’ reliever Hutchison sailed through the 7th but gave up a lead-off solo shot in the 8th. A 1-out single later scored on a 2-out single to give the Orioles just one more run for the afternoon. And Brothers closed out the game with a quick, scoreless 9th.

The Yankees once again got on the board early and first. In the 1st, Kyle Holder led-off the game with a single but was forced out at 2nd on Andujar’s fielder’s choice (again, another delayed, unsuccessful double play attempt). This means that Luke Voit’s big homer up the middle became a 2-run home run. Miguel Andujar led-off the 3rd with a solo home run┬áinto the left field seats, and Zack Zehner imitated him with a lead-off solo home run of his own, also to left field, in the 4th.

After the Orioles chipped some off their lead, the Yankees didn’t get another chance until the 9th to find an insurance run. Burns worked a 1-out walk, stole 2nd, and then scored on Holder’s 2-out double.

Final score: 5-3 Yankees

Game 2: Yankees at Phillies
Meanwhile, in Clearwater, the Yankees had a bit more of a battle to the finish today, with a scoreless game for most of the first half of the afternoon. The Yankees finally found their moment in the 5th inning. Lipka led-off with a bunt single, stole 2nd, and easily scored on Trey Amburgey’s big triple to get the Yankees on the board first.

James Paxton got the start, throwing into the 5th inning, but finding trouble there. He gave up a lead-off walk, and the next batter made it to 1st on a strikeout-wild pitch. With those 2 runners on, Chad Green came on to try to shut down the advancing Phillies. But he promptly gave up a single that scored the tying run. Another single put another runner on base, so both runners scored on a triple to give the home team the lead. A great fielder’s choice got the lead runner out at home on the next play.

It would be Dellin Betances to right the ship for the Yankees, kicking off the momentum with a flawless 6th inning. Kahnle, Coulombe, and Anderson Severino (no relation) each took a scoreless inning to help give the Yankees a chance to regain the lead.

So, in the 6th, Greg Bird led-off with a big solo home run, and Gleyber Torres followed suit with a 1-out solo home run to tie up the game. In the 7th, with 1 out, LeMahieu made it safely on a throwing error and then scored as part of Troy Tulowitzki’s 2-run home run to give the Yankees the lead again.

But the hits kept coming. In the 8th, Tyler Wade led-off with single, moved to 2nd on Olivares’ single, and later scored on Cabrera’s 2-out single. Castillo’s single scored Olivares, officially sealing another Yankees’ win this afternoon.

Final score: 7-3 Yankees

Next up: The Yankees will play another away game. This time, they travel to Kissimmee, about an hour east, to visit the Braves’ Spring home tomorrow night. It will be the last season the Braves have their Spring Training on Disney World property as their new home in Sarasota will officially open next year. However, they are scheduled to play an inaugural game against the Rays on March 24 before the 2019 season begins.

Finally, a happy St. Patrick’s Day to all who celebrate!

Go Yankees!

Spring Game 21: TOR vs. NYY — The Saturday hit parade

For the second afternoon in a row, the Yankees turned the hot, humid weather into a sort of springboard for dominating their visiting opponent in Tampa. Early on, the home team hosted a continued batting practice under the guise of a Spring Training game, with the Blue Jays even getting in on the fun and action today. And fans were just there for the show.

The Yankees kicked things off in the 1st, with Aaron Judge’s big 1-out solo home run, the first home run and hit of a 9 home run and 29 hit day, overall. Then, Bird worked a 2-out walk and scored with Gleyber Torres’ 2-run home run to give the Yankees an early lead.

JA Happ got the start for the Yankees. Despite a good 1st inning, he had a bit of trouble in the 2nd. A lead-off single scored as part of a 2-run home run to get the Blue Jays on the board. Two outs later, a solo home run helped push the Jays into a tie.

So, the Yankees came back in the bottom of the 2nd to retake their lead. With 1 out, Wade doubled, and Gio Urshela smacked a 2-run home run to break the tie. Gardner then singled, moved to 2nd on a wild pitch, and scored on Giancarlo Stanton’s 2-out single. In the 4th, with 1 out and Florial on base with a single, pinch-hitter Jorge Saez hit a solid 2-run home run to keep the runs rolling in.

After Britton and Chapman sailed their way through the 4th and 5th innings, Tommy Kahnle’s 1st pitch in the 6th became a Blue Jays’ solo home run. But he got right back on track and shut them down in 3 quick outs.

The Yankees answered back in the 6th. Estevan Florial led-off with a walk, stole 2nd, moved to 3rd on a ground out, and then scored on Matt Lipka’s single. Lipka moved to 2nd on Wagner’s single and scored on Thairo Estrada’s double. Clint Frazier fought through a good at-bat only to hit a 2-RBI triple. And in the 7th, Urshela led-off with a double, and his pinch-runner later scored on Matt Lipka’s big 2-run home run.

Minor league reliever Phillip Diehl had a great 7th inning but found trouble in the 8th. He loaded up the bases with a double, a single, and a walk, with no outs. A sacrifice fly scored the lead run, and with that out, the Yankees went to Weissert for pitching relief. After a strong strikeout, a strong 2-RBI triple edged the Blue Jays a bit closer to the Yankees’ lead.

Thairo Estrada then led-off the 8th with a ridiculously speedy triple (a double for most people) and scored on Francisco Diaz’s single. Zack Zehner hit a big 2-run home run to cap off the runs this afternoon. The Yankees sent reliever Jonathan Holder in to close out the game with a scoreless 9th.

Final score: 17-7 Yankees

One to Watch: Today, I opted for two honorees. Gio Urshela dominated the first half of the game once again with his contributions at the plate and his outstanding defense, starting at 3rd base. And in the latter half of the game, Matt Lipka’s bat was hot today, going 2-for-2, with 3 RBIs and 2 runs scored.

Next up: the Yankees have a split squad day tomorrow afternoon. But in a weird scheduling twist, both games are actually being played away. One squad will travel to visit the Orioles in Sarasota (about an hour south), and the other across the Bay to Clearwater to see the Phillies (about 25 minutes west).

Unfortunately, there is some injury news. In the top of the 8th, outfielder Estevan Florial slammed into the center field fence trying to negotiate between the sun and a fly ball. (The fence won.) He was pinch-hit on his next at-bat and sent to precautionary x-rays, which came back with non-displaced right wrist fracture. In other words, his Spring is done and will probably start back with Advanced-A Tampa as part of his rehab and recovery once he is healed.

And Luis Severino is still dealing with his inflamed shoulder, and due to his slow recovery process this Spring, it looks like he will miss regular season games through April. Aaron Hicks’ back should be healed and ready to go by Opening Day, but he will have no Spring warm-up. So he could take a few sim games or minor league games (or about a week) before rejoining the regular team.

With two key players out, even for a week in Hicks’ case, that could mean a brief promotion for some Yankee players. So as they continue to hone their roster, it will be interesting to see who winds up as part of the 25-men set to play Opening Day.

One player in Yankee Universe that won’t be part of that line-up is Seahawks star quarterback Russell Wilson. Wilson is technically part of the Yankee farm system and was in camp these last two days, connecting with friends like Judge and working out with his fellow athletes. Unlike last year, Wilson didn’t get any play time in either of these last two big games, watching his teammates haul in big victories from the dugout. Maybe that’s why the scores looked more like the NFL than MLB — blame Wilson.

Go Yankees!

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 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 1: NYY vs. BOS — Starting with a few bangs and a whimper

After a full week of full squad reporting, press conferences, workouts, and team building exercises, the Yankees kicked off their 2019 baseball season against their long-time rivals at Fenway South in Fort Myers, about 140 miles (or about 2 hours) south of Steinbrenner Field. Yes, the Yankees are starting 2019 by taking on the 2018 Champions. Perhaps with a small hope of transferring the title back to New York this year.

It actually started pretty good for the Yankees. Gleyber Torres began his 2019 season with a bang, a 1-out solo home run in the 1st inning to take an early lead. And the Yankee batters were hitting off the Red Sox’s pitchers today, collecting 13 total hits. In the 2nd, Tyler Wade hit a 1-out double, stole 2nd, and then stole on Matt Lipka’s double. Lipka then scored on Aaron Hicks’ double.

Nestor Cortes got to start this afternoon’s game for the Yankees, throwing into the 3rd inning. He gave up one run in the 2nd after 3 consecutive singles and then repeated that in the 3rd. So, with 2 runners on base and 2 outs, the Yankees opted to go to their bullpen. But that didn’t help right away. Another single scored the tying run, and then next batter hit a big 3-run home run over the right field fence to double the Red Sox’s score and give them the lead.

But then both teams fell into a pattern of stronger baseball, keeping the score static until the 8th inning. The Yankees got the first chance to chip away at the home team’s lead. Ryan McBroom smacked a solid 1-out home run (into this stadium’s attempt to replicate the Green Monster wall) to start their rally attempt. Trey Amburgey doubled and later scored on Kyle Holder’s single. Then with 2 walks and bases loaded, the Yankees were just a run shy of tying the game. Unfortunately, the Red Sox brought in a new pitcher that shut down their rally.

The Yankees didn’t help in the bottom of the 8th, by allowing the Red Sox to retake those 2 runs. A single and double put runners in scoring position to do so on a 1-out single. And the visiting team didn’t find another rally in them in the 9th, so the Red Sox took their first game.

Final score: 8-6 Red Sox

Not exactly the best way to start this season, but oddly reminiscent of last year — big start and not enough to beat the Red Sox by the end. Okay, now that we’ve made the comparison, we can start fresh with tomorrow’s game.

Tomorrow will be at the Rays’ Spring home field about half the distance of today’s game down the Gulf Coast of Florida. Monday will be the first home game for the Yankees.

Welcome to Spring Baseball. Boy, have we missed you.

Go Yankees!

{Media note reminder: Like every year, Spring Training unfortunately involves spotty video coverage, which sometimes leads to less available media highlights. Like today’s game was solely covered by the Red Sox’s own sports broadcast, so many of the highlights Yankee fans might prefer to see aren’t available for inclusion. Sorry!}